Ellen Buttrick |

‘The year changes, but the dream remains the same’

In an exclusive new series for British Rowing members, GB Para rower Ellen Buttrick shares her thoughts and insights about rowing and beyond the sport as she trains for the Tokyo Paralympics

In just under six months’ time, I will hopefully be in Tokyo completing final preparations for the Paralympic Games. Although we have reached this milestone before, it feels even more significant now.

A year ago I was looking forward to my first Games, excited by the stories of my peers who had competed at Rio or London and focused on delivering a medal for my country. Today, I sit here amidst a third lockdown in the UK, after seven months out of a boat due to pandemic and injury, but ever more determined to row the best 2,000 metres of my life on 29 August.


The year changes, but the dream remains the same and has done ever since I was told in 2014 that my deteriorating sight loss could not be stopped: to represent ParalympicsGB.

In this series of blogs, I hope to take you along with me on my journey to my first Paralympic Games. Alongside my training, I enjoy contributing to the work of charities and organisations that are implementing social change and I also want to share their work through this series too. This blog is just an introduction to me, I look forward to sharing more soon.

“I have really relied on my training to take my mind off the pandemic”

What I love most about an Olympic and Paralympic year is the collective pride that each country feels in their athletes’ success. This feeling is what drew me to sport as a young adult and even writing it today I can feel it still. Sport is powerful because of the communities that it builds and what has stood out for me and given me hope – especially over the past 12 months – is the resilience of these communities and their ability to step up when people need them the most.


I joined the rowing community in 2012 with a learn to row course at Leeds Rowing Club and it was focusing on my rowing and the support of my team-mates that has helped me through some of the most difficult moments in my life.

Personally, over the last 12 months, I have really relied on my training to take my mind off the pandemic and I know that many others have been doing the same, embracing their exercise as a way to get outdoors and be social, within government guidelines of course.


Since attending a Para Rowing Talent ID day at the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake in 2017 and leaving with a training programme and an invitation to their 2km ergo assessment, I am now a double world champion, world record holder in the mixed coxed four and a full-time member of the GB Para Rowing squad.

“My training allows me to be a dedicated volunteer with organisations widening participation in sport”

I’m in a very fortunate position that I only ever dreamed of before – funded by UK Sport and The National Lottery to train every day and represent my country. So, when Tokyo 2020 was postponed and we could no longer go to training each day, I chose to represent Great Britain in another way, as I continued my training at home for the Paralympics in 2021. I became an NHS COVID-19 volunteer, coordinated Mutual Aid support efforts in my local area and continued my normal volunteering roles remotely.

The communities that I enjoy from sport are equally present across the charity sector and before joining the team full time to train for Tokyo 2020, I found a lot of fulfilment working for a national refugee charity in Leeds. Now my training allows me to be a dedicated volunteer with organisations widening participation in sport, empowering girls and young women and supporting asylum seekers across Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

During the first lockdown, regular video calls with fellow athletes, supporting my community and many long bike rides in the sun were how I passed the days.

This time, as we draw closer to our first race, the European Championships in April and the weather is sadly not yet as bright, I’m spending a lot more time training whilst also using this time to find new ways that I can continue my two joys of rowing and helping others.

I recently joined the board of British Rowing’s Charitable Foundation Love Rowing, so I am hoping that this will be keeping me busy for now and I can’t wait to share more about it in future posts.

Photos: AllMarkOne, Nick Middleton