Seize the Oar was founded in 2013 when Morgan, a competitive rower who taught a beginner rowing class, was forwarded an email from a local man with a spinal cord injury who wanted to learn to row. “There were no programs in the Pacific Northwest for adaptive rowers,” Morgan said. Even though she had never taught anyone with a disability, Morgan didn’t hesitate. “I told him to come on down. And lucky for me, when I asked him what he did for work, he revealed that he was not only a doctor, but he specialized in physical medicine and rehabilitation and worked with people with SCI.”
From there, with the help of donors, friends and rowing colleagues, Seize the Oar grew quickly. Now, it has around eight adaptive athletes on the team at any time.
I’ve always been active and athletic but knew nothing about rowing — much less adaptive rowing — until November 2017. While participating in an adaptive CrossFit workshop in Seattle, a classmate mentioned there was a local adaptive rowing team named Seize the Oar. “It’s a great endurance sport and I love being on the water,” he said. “It feels like a small family with all of the athletes and volunteers.” He mentioned winter training was starting soon and I should check it out.
When I rolled into the gym for the first time, it felt a little like the first day of school. During the cold, rainy months, Seize the Oar moves indoors for weekly strength and rowing machine workouts. As we circled up to introduce ourselves, my eyes kept shifting toward two exceptionally fit female paras, both lean with beautiful Sarah Connor arms. Having never been on a rowing machine, or erg, as they are known, I kept my gaze on them as they set up.
First, they placed their adaptive seats on the erg and locked them into position with clamps. Then they put their wheelchair cushions on top and transferred over. After strapping their feet on the footplates, they began to secure the rest of the straps. Straps are an important part of adaptive or para-rowing and athletes use them differently depending on preference and injury level. One of the women used five straps, from her chest to knees, and a foam wedge under one of her hips to help her sit evenly; the other used three straps from her chest to hips.
With their hands wrapped around the handles and their arms outstretched, they leaned forward and pulled back with graceful power, their upper back muscles squeezing together as they moved the handles into their bodies. The handles didn’t stay long, though, as the rowers’ arms were already starting to stretch forward again. It was a fluid movement and there was a rhythm to their in-unison strokes.
Now it was my turn. I transferred onto the seat and, with guidance, got strapped in and started to row. It wasn’t as easy as the two women made it look. Like anything, it was going to take practice and hard work. But I liked it — my heart rate was up and my arm and back muscles were firing.
Image credit: Photo by Author