When Ross Eadie rows along the Red River, he feels like he can see again.
The wind, the waves and the feel of the water bring back memories of childhood for the 50-year-old Winnipegger, who has been blind in both eyes since 1984.
"Some of my first experiences were (on the Red River)," says Eadie, chuckling heartily. He remembers a time four decades ago when he and his friends built a raft and rode it all the way from Luxton Avenue to Kildonan Park and back.
"When you're on the water, you get a different perspective of the city. It's the sounds of the city. The lights are just amazing.
"I still picture that kind of stuff. It still inspires sight in me," says Eadie, a provincial policy analyst and Mynarski city counsellor candidate.
The memories of his time on water are more vivid than ever since he took up adaptive rowing a couple of years ago.
Adaptive rowing is relatively new to Manitoba. The sport allows people with various disabilities to row. Adaptive rowers often use boats and paddles that have been altered to suit their particular disabilities.
Although the sport has been around for the last 20 years, it only recently became an official Paralympic event. (It premiered during the 2008 games in Beijing.)
The Winnipeg Rowing Club has offered adaptive rowing since 2005, but just to a small number of competitive rowers.
Now the Lyndale Drive club wants to make the activity more widely available to Winnipeggers. It will be home to an adaptive rowing session on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is $30. Several sessions took place earlier in the summer.
Sport Manitoba, along with Rowing Canada, helped fund the adaptive rowing initiative.
Juliana Vipond, an adaptive rowing coach with the Winnipeg Rowing Club, is thrilled she can share her favourite activity — rowing — with people like Eadie.
"I'm really passionate about this," says Vipond, whose mission is to prove that anyone can row. "There isn't a limitation to trying this. We have the equipment to do it. We have the energetic staff behind it."
Vipond says she would teach a single-leg amputee, for example, to use his leg, trunk and arms to complete a rowing stroke that's almost identical to that of someone without a disability.
A rower who doesn't have the use of either of his legs, on the other hand, would use a boat with a stabilized seat rather than one that slides. "The seat won't move. The rower can make use of the body and the arms to sort of propel the boat and move the boat along," says Vipond.
Either way, adaptive rowing is a challenge for the participant. And it's fun, says Vipond.
That's why Eadie decided to sign up.
He says loved the notion that adaptive rowing doesn't veer far from the original version of sport.
The father and husband admits he likes a challenge.
He also wanted to set a good example of healthy living for his kids, Elliott, 16, and Everett, 14.
This summer, Eadie rowed with three other people to make up a team of four. All but one were blind.
Once a week, the group would head out on the water while their coaches would instruct them from a nearby motorboat.
The West Kildonan resident admits he and his team, at first, had trouble timing their strokes.
"We all got a little frustrated with each other when we were trying to get the synchronization down," says Eadie, noting that paddling in unison is integral to rowing success. "It feels goods when you`re all together and in synch. We had a few of those occasions. It was good."
Another unexpected hurdle? The boat's snug fit. "If you think about rowing, you never picture how small those Olympic class rowing boats are," says Eadie. "I had great difficulty getting my butt on that sliding seat."
Eadie lost the sight in his right eye in 1969 after a pal threw a tree branch at him during a game on the riverbank. The branch accidentally struck Eadie — who was just a kid at the time — in the eye.
Another tragedy hit Eadie in 1984. That's when he lost the sight in his left eye. It happened after a "scuffle" with another person, during which Eadie's prescription eyeglasses shattered, damaging his remaining eye.
Eadie says he takes life in stride and doesn't let his vision loss deter him from trying new things. "Life goes on," he says, noting that his not really sure about the details of his teammates' disabilities.
"We don't really get into that. It's more that, 'Oh my shoulders are aching today.'"
The Scotia Street resident wants to continue his rowing endeavours.
But he's ready to push himself harder.
Next season, he plans to move from adaptive rowing to regular recreational rowing.
"I'd like to get on the river two or three times week. It would be neat to be in a competition."
For more information about Saturday's adaptive rowing session at the Winnipeg Rowing Club, contact the Manitoba Rowing Association at 925-5653, or visit www.rowmanitoba.ca
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