7 February 2019
Paralympic champion Rowles ready to rebound from injury setbacks
Lauren Rowles knows all about the highs of international sport - winning Paralympic rowing gold just a year after first sitting in a boat. But she’s also learned that the tallest of peaks are often accompanied by the darkest of valleys.
Rowles’s Paralympic journey started after a chance meeting with British rowing team officials at Stoke Mandeville Sports Centre. Laurence Whiteley was almost ready to give up his Rio dream after failing to find a partner for the trunk-arms mixed double scull.
And then along came Rowles, who mixed learning a new sport with studying her A-levels and joined forces with Whiteley to win World Championship silver in their first competition, with the Paralympic title following one year later on the Lagoa Rodridgo de Freitas.
However, as Tokyo comes into sharper focus, Rowles has quickly learned that not everything she touches will always turn to gold.
A succession of injuries and associated surgeries have kept her off the water for a succession of key regattas, meaning a watching brief on the riverbank as the rest of the world underlined their Paralympic credentials.
Whiteley and Rowles stormed to victory in Rio
“In the last 18 months to two years I’ve suffered three injuries and it’s been a weight over me the past two seasons,” admits Rowles, who celebrates her 21st birthday next month and is currently studying for a law degree.
“Every injury has taught me a lot about myself; there are a lot of enriching things that you can take away from having an injury.
“However, it’s terrible in the short term – all you want to do is be training and competing and you don’t want to have these hindrances.
“For me, the biggest blow was that I found out that I’d torn my hip about a month before the World Championships in the summer.
“I’d trained all summer and put my everything into coming back from having surgery earlier on in the year to find out that it wasn’t going to happen for me.
“However, you have to look forward and these next two years are the most important.
“I’ve been ready and raring to go since last season – every injury I’ve come back from I’ve been like ‘right, now’s my time to perform!’ I’m in the absolute best shape of my life at the moment and training is going extremely well.”
Rowles’s target for this season will be the World Cup regatta season and the World Championships in Ottensheim - a chance to upgrade that silver she and Whiteley won in 2015.
To push the boundaries of people’s minds and make people go ‘wow.’ That’s why we all get up in the morning.
“Every day I think about how can I push that performance on and produce something that’s even more incredible than what we did in Rio,” she added.
“It’s everything we live and breathe for. It’s why I wake up every single morning, just to wear the flag on my chest and go out and compete for my country – that’s the biggest honour any athlete can have.
“To just know that you’re going out there and everything you’ve worked for, you’re ready, you’re prepped.
“To display things to people that shouldn’t be humanly possible and push the boundaries of people’s minds and make people go ‘wow.’ That’s why we all get up in the morning; that’s why we all do it.”
Rowles is proof that you can go from beginner to champion in quick succession with the right attitude - and a little bit of luck.
And she should certainly serve as an inspiration as British Rowing continue their search for a women rower in the PR1 category.
Rowles has struggled with injury since winning Paralympic gold
The PR1 classification is for anyone who has an incomplete spinal cord lesion, a complete T12 spinal cord lesion or bilateral above knee amputee.
And the event has a proud history of British Paralympic success, with Rachel Morris winning gold in 2016 and Helene Raynsford taking the title at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
“We’re quite confident that if we find the right person we can work with them to deliver some really successful results,” said British Rowing’s Paralympic lead coach Tom Dyson.
“This is a real opportunity for someone to step into this boat class, in which we have won two of the three previous Paralympic titles, and to continue that success.”
Rowles once answered a similar call and - despite a ride on sport’s emotional rollercoaster - changed her life forever.
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