A few weeks ago, Mixed Ability Accredited rowing club, Bradford ARC, left the chilly climes of the north of England and headed to Turin, Italy, for the first International Mixed Ability Rowing Exchange. Rowers of all abilities shared their experiences and knowledge to allow people of all walks of life to be part of community rowing clubs. BARC took their first steps on the Mixed Ability journey back in 2018, and with support from IMAS have been running a successful Mixed Ability session on Sunday mornings ever since. Despite the huge obstacles posed by Covid-19, BARC became a Mixed Ability Accredited Club at the beginning of 2021, and their recent trip to Turin is a great example of the huge success BARC have made of Mixed Ability. The following report comes from Celia, President of BARC, who travelled to Turin with Michael, a Mixed Ability rower and IMAS Expert by Experience.
Back in 2018 when Mixed Ability Rowing was in its infancy at BARC, we hosted an Italian rower, Enrico Colzani, who took a trip or two in a quad on the Aire. Enrico was visiting International Mixed Ability Sports and was keen to get BARC MA rowers to a regatta at the Societa Conttieri Armida on the Po in Turin. Fast forward three years and their invitation was re-extended to row at the Para Rowing 15th edition Regatta – Rowing for Paris 2024 on 23rd and 24th October 2021.
After a considerable break in MA rowing due to the pandemic I decided that if the trip was restricted to scoping the event and the host rowing club and getting Michael to watch an international regatta then we would have had a successful time; so we signed up, but quite what for I didn’t really know! Turns out Google translate and DuoLingo Italian don’t prepare one for the intricacies of rowing terminology and anyway, there is no word for sculling in Italian.
Travelling after all the restrictions placed upon us by COVID came as a massive shock to the system; paperwork, apps, travel passes, tests, more tests, being asked to prove everything in digital and paper variations and doing this for three people (did I mention Michael took a support worker Naomi with him?) was a huge ask, but with my usual flair for taking on big tasks without really assessing the implications, we somehow made it to Turin and wow!
The Societa Conttieri Armida, founded in 1869, is one of six rowing clubs on the Po. It has a unique position, in a big and well used park, Parco del Valentino, and is almost in Turin’s city centre.
The clubhouse is a beautiful, light and airy building with a terrace to die for, a rowing tank cut under the road in a specially constructed vaulted ceiling room, boathouses brimming with Fillipi boats and a restaurant. The welcome was lovely and everyone was keen to meet the ‘Inglesi’. Michael got a late evening outing in a coxed four despite never having sat in a sweep boat before, after we watched over 100 school age scullers get themselves afloat and row the 1000m short course.
The next day was a full regatta timetable and I watched the Italian equivalent of Barry, BARC’s assistant secretary, stringing up ancient bunting, as the visiting clubs enjoyed a Friday evening glass of wine in the sun. Saturday dawned warm and bright and we headed out to the river. The sight that met us was such a joy to behold; para-athletes and mixed ability participants in their 100’s fully embracing rowing and competing. Racing was side by side over 1000m and at times four lane rowing. Michael was pleased to find his Mixed Ability partner, Stefano, was an Armida club rower and they sculled away from the pontoon looking relaxed. And then it dawned on me, Michael was in a fine double; how would he cope? Waiting for the Open 2x race was torture; ‘what if’s’ flying through my mind. But the non-stop commentary mentioned ’Inglesi Michel Kernoun’ and there they were driving hard towards to the line, a boat on their outside taking the wider course and gifting them second place and the silver medal.
Michael was delighted and once safely on land, quite vociferous about his exploits in the ‘bit wobbly’ boat. I was so pleased for him; an international race, on different water, in a fine boat, over 1000m – what a triumph!
There were tearful medal ceremonies all day and Michael’s was no exception, with all six medallists becoming slightly emotional.
One amusing part of both days of the regatta was when, at lunchtime, all racing stopped. Nothing odd in that as officials have to rotate and everyone needs a break. But we were all led into the dining hall, seated at tables with white linen cloths and tastefully arranged flowers and served a full three-course meal, pretty much like our annual dinner in the middle of a regatta! And then everyone went back to the river, jumped back into boats and started racing again.
Sunday’s racing was the short (500m) course. Michael was again joined by Stefano and this time they had their sights set on the gold. But a very strong 2x did not give them that opportunity and a photo finish gave Michael and Stefano their second silver of the weekend.
This time the medal was awarded by the President of S. C. Armida who graciously accepted our plaque commemorating the historic occasion and chatted happily with a fellow President until Michael flipped off my cap and revealed my blue hair!
I was reluctant to get involved as being there for Michael was my role for the weekend, but after his race Michael was keen for ‘Missus’ to get a race and so I coxed a Mixed Ability scratch eight in a strange and highly effective coxing language of my own invention – part Italian, part English, part shrieking “Legs, gambe, now, ora, insieme, together.”
It worked and the crew won by a length. This time the medals were presented by the Tokyo 2020 Women’s Lightweight Doubles Gold Medallist Federica Casarini which was pretty cool.
So we triumphed! Coming away with medals and new friends. We learnt that rowing is pretty much the same everywhere, rowers are friendly and hospitable and if you are adaptable and open to new experiences, great things can come your way!
So now I have to work out how MA Rowing at BARC reciprocates and gives Armida’s lovely MA squad a chance to enjoy our beautiful stretch of Aire. And next year Michael wants to return to Turin with more Inglesi to enjoy the delights of Italian rowing – anyone fancy a trip to Turin?