Despite his silver medal at the 2018 World Rowing Championships and breaking two separate world records on the indoor rowing machine this fall before being named Para-Athlete of the Year by Rowing Canada in January, 27-year old Jeremy Hall may not compete at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
“My dream is the Paralympics and I need a partner to do that. I’ve still got a ton to work on myself and I look forward to rowing with a partner,” said Hall, who is originally from St. Paul.
Hall hopes to compete in the mixed double sculls event, the only rowing event at the Paralympics with a PR2 classification, meaning “rowers who have functional use of the trunk and who are not able to use the sliding seat to propel the boat because of significantly weakened function or mobility of the lower limbs,” according to regulations on the World Rowing website.
“And that’s the trouble, is it’s difficult to describe a specific disability or impairment that we’re looking for. Classification can be a tedious subject and so from case to case, it’s a little variable. Certainly anyone with a musculoskeletal impairment who is interested in rowing and the potential to compete at the Paralympics should reach out,” said Hall.
John Wetzstein is the lead para-rowing coach for Rowing Canada. He wants to find not just the right woman for Hall to row with at the Paralympics, but the next generation of para-rowers to compete for Canada beyond 2020.
“While we’re looking for the one, we’re also looking for seven more,” said Wetzstein.
“There are opportunities. There are other classifications and we need general depth. We’re looking for athletes in general. This is about Jeremy and what we’re dealing with and have to overcome to compete, but what I’d love to see is that at our next national championship there are six lanes across of PR2 women racing for a national title.”
Wetzstein said one of the major challenges to finding a partner for Hall to row with is simply having a smaller number of athletes to begin with.
“We’re not just trying to find participants, we’re trying to find athletes that are capable of winning medals. So I think it’s an inherently challenging thing. But I would say she’s out there. It’s a question of how we effectively get the word out and make sure we leave no stone unturned,” said Wetzstein. He said the focus on medal potential is because Rowing Canada sees Hall and the PR2 mixed double as a legitimate medal opportunity, and in the long term is working towards being able to medal in every classification.
According to Wetzstein, an able-bodied athlete might be in training for five to 10 years before competing at the international level, while “for a para-athlete, in Jeremy’s case it happened in just over a year. Now that’s an exceptional case, but I’ve had cases where you’ve had an athlete who’s done that in the two to three years as well … With the right athlete and the right situation it’s definitely attainable.”
Although Rowing Canada runs a centralized training program out of Victoria, Wetzstein said the woman they’re looking for could be anywhere in Canada right now. He said they’re following up on every lead they get all across the country.
“If there’s a club and an athlete that has some initiative and is keen, we’ll do whatever we can to support that, whether that’s me going to work with that athlete and coach where they are, whether that’s helping out with equipment if there’s something lacking to further that development, whatever it takes to get that athlete going and get them to a level where they would join me and Jeremy in B.C.,” said Wetzstein.
Asked what kind of person would be well suited to rowing, Wetzstein laughed and said, “Maybe we’re looking for people who are a little nuts.”
“I think people see rowing from a distance and it looks very graceful and beautiful and they think it’s a serene activity. In practice, there’s very little that’s serene about it. There’s a gruelling aspect to it, in terms of what the body has to go through to do it at a high level,” he said.
Hall said he thought someone who is already competing in a winter sport might be a good fit “because there’s a capacity to be a two-sport athlete there and compete at both the summer and winter Olympics. In terms of specific sports, I think cross-country skiing, para-nordic is one. The training regime, the physiological attributes that make you a good cross country skier carry over to rowing. Both strong, aerobic based.”
“Rowing is an endurance power sport so anything that works that same physiological capacity. You’re in situations where you’re coaching a new skill but you’re not having to train a different machine to do it,” said Wetzstein. He said in addition to para-nordic, wheelchair basketball or sledge hockey might be other sports where athletes were also well suited to rowing.
Hall played sledge hockey prior to taking up rowing about a year and a half ago, on the advice of friends and teammates.
“Oftentimes, I think there might be a lack of awareness of the possibility of para-sport out there. An athlete might get entrenched in one sport without knowing about the classification of another that they might be more suited to. So just creating that awareness of what’s out there,” said Hall.
For now, Hall and Wetzstein’s search for a female rowing partner for Jeremy continues, as the clock to the qualifying regatta in August continues to tick.
For more information on Rowing Canada’s NextGen program or to discuss specific requirements and opportunities in para-rowing, contact Kayla Cornale at firstname.lastname@example.org or John Wetzstein at email@example.com.