The GB Para Rowing squad are racing at the Europeans for the first time, after Para categories were introduced at the championships last year. James Fox is racing in the GB PR3 Para mixed coxed four and can’t wait to put all the winter training to the test
As an international rower we don’t get the opportunity to race all that often. Including the European and World Rowing Championships and the World Cup series in the spring there are usually five races a year in our calendar. Chuck in an injury or illness somewhere or, say, a pandemic and we end up attached to a stake boat probably three times a year, if we’re lucky.
When we lined up for our final in Rio in 2016, for example, we had raced once previously that year – in the heats two days prior. The miles/race ratio can sting a little bit if you think about it too much. Even more so for the likes of the men’s eight, I should imagine, who go hammer and tongs for a paltry five-and-a-bit minutes each time they head down the track.
In the mixed coxed four we prefer to get our money’s worth and nip under the seven-minute mark, but even so the numbers can be hard to stomach as you look down the barrel of a hard winter training block.
The long and short of it is that we live and breathe racing and casting our minds forwards to filling our legs with lactate and taking chunks out of other crews with the Union Jack puffed out proudly on our chests is enough motivation to fuel even the chilliest mornings.
After the pain and anguish of missing an entire season of racing last year, along with everything else that encompassed our world, the relief of being able to tick off the winter miles and the excitement of entering a fresh, thrilling and strangely alien season of racing was felt in volumes among the camp at Caversham, before we left for Varese.
“I believe ‘air fives’ are the celebration of choice these days, so keep your eyes peeled for some wafting”
The very fact racing is going ahead, as planned, will instil confidence that ‘The Big One’ is still very much on the cards in Tokyo this summer. But a win, and the title of European champion, will be a welcome stake in the ground and is undoubtedly what everybody has been chomping at the bit for over the past 20 months, since our last strokes in anger.
As with everything, at the moment, there are some caveats; spectators are not allowed, and indeed we have just recently been informed of the IOC’s decision that this rule will also apply for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. A shame for all involved because a large driving force for many of us are our family.
Social distancing will also be observed, so no jubilant hugs or high fives although I believe ‘air fives’ are the celebration of choice these days, so keep your eyes peeled for some wafting.
The past few weeks have seen a flurry of land and water testing at Caversham, capped off by a team-wide speed order race recently. Behind the scenes, pieces of the puzzle are coming together and some of the crews are putting out world-beating times.
With a touch of polishing, and some luck in a year bound to be littered with hurdles, I think we can all be incredibly excited to see a GB team enjoy the success it has deserved for a few years now.
Please tune in online, scream at your TVs and enjoy some racing this weekend.
It promises to be a belter.
Main photo: AllMarkOne