When Ross Eadie was searching for a new sport to try last year, he wanted something that wouldn’t require any major changes because of his blindness. What he found was adaptive rowing.
"I wanted to get into some sports to keep in shape and relieve some stress," said the 50-year-old from West Kildonan, who is running for city council in the Mynarski ward this fall.
"People are trying basketball and baseball, but those are so different. With this, we’re rowing. We might not be as good, but we’re rowing."
Eadie started taking lessons with a small group through the Manitoba Blind Sports Association at the Winnipeg Rowing Club.
This year, he’s one of three rowers enrolled in the eight-week program, which is part of the Manitoba Rowing Association’s Adaptive Rowing Program.
"It’s quite a learning experience," said Eadie, who lost his sight when he was 24. "There are several things happening in a boat with three blind people trying to get in sync with each other. The most difficult part is getting the oars working properly."
Juliana Vipond, the MRA’s adaptive development officer, coaches Eadie and his fellow adaptive rowers along with Ralph Penner. She agreed that the biggest challenges for blind rowers are utilizing the oars and communicating as a team.
"Knowing the position of the blade can get confusing," said the Fort Rouge resident. "It can be upside down and still feel right."
With rowers who can see, maintaining a consistent rhythm in the boat is largely visual. With blind rowers, it becomes an auditory issue.
"We need to be more consistent, to listen to each other and trust each other," she said. "Teamwork and trust are more important."
The ultimate goal of the adaptive rowing program is to integrate the participants in clubs to continue to row in a recreational or competitive setting.
Eadie expects to take part in the Winnipeg Rowing Club’s recreational program next year, with hopes of one day competing.
"I think it’s great. You can be with eight people with or without disabilities," he said.
Aside from the fitness aspect — Eadie always knows he was out on the water when he wakes up the next morning — Vipond tells prospective adaptive rowers that the sport offers a great social atmosphere.
"It’s enjoyable for so many reasons," she said. "It’s a great individual challenge, and we try to involve as many people as we can without anything stopping them. It’s inspiring to show people that they can do something that they thought they never could."
Adaptive rowing isn’t only for blind people. Boats and other equipment can be adapted for people with varying degrees of physical and intellectual disabilities.
The MRA is holding three Have a Go adaptive rowing sessions in September, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sat., Sept. 11, Sat., Sept. 18 and Sat., Sept. 25.
This fall, they are focusing on rowers who have a disability, but have use of their legs, trunks and arms.
For more information, visit www.rowmanitoba.ca or call 925-5653.