Para-rowers turn up the heat at Henley Royal Regatta


GB Rowing Team para-rowers past and present were in action on a scorchingly-hot opening day of the Henley Royal Regatta.

Three years ago, James Roe was part of the British mixed coxed four that famously won gold at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Today he helped Stratford-upon-Avon Boat Club defeat Quinton BC by two-and-three-quarter lengths to reach the quarter-finals of the Britannia Challenge Cup.

“It is good to be back racing,” said Roe, who is visually-impaired.

“After London 2012 I didn’t do any rowing until the start of this season and I’m easing my way back into it. We didn’t have the results we were hoping for in the first couple of races back but it has come together in the last few weeks.

“This is my third Henley but it’s Stratford’s first for 26 years, so it’s great to be a part of it.”

Also competing for their clubs on day one were Oliver Hester, a 2013 World Champion in the mixed coxed four, and Jordan Beecher – both relative newcomers to the para-rowing squad.

“I don’t think I’ve actually met the other two guys, they came along after my time – I don’t know where the last three years have gone!” Roe added.

“But it’s great to see the other para-rowers here and to see the new blood doing so well.

“I’m still really good friends with Pam Relph and I follow their results keenly. Setting two World-Best times in Varese the other week was amazing.

James Fox has won Henley before and to see people like him go into para-rowing from such a strong background can only be good for the sport.”

Hester, who helped an Upper Thames RC eight to one-and-three-quarter length victory over Reading BC in the Thames Challenge Cup, was grateful to gain more big-race experience as he competes for a place in the GB mixed coxed four.

“You don’t usually get the chance as a para-rower to be part of an eight, so it’s about learning to move the boat and getting some great experience in the quicker boats,” he said.

“There is a lot of competition in the mixed coxed four at the moment, so anything I can gain from racing like today I can then take back into the squad.”

Hester was also hugely impressed by the live streaming of all of today’s races on YouTube.

“I cannot say how great the live coverage is for the sport,” he said. “Good work whoever sorted that out, it is just such a positive thing for rowing.

“I live in Henley, so I had all the guys in the boat back at my place this morning to watch the live stream. Seeing how hot it was, we all agreed we were grateful to race in the evening!”

Beecher, whose left leg had to be amputated after an IED blast while serving in Afghanistan in October 2012, only took up rowing 18 months ago and was making his Henley debut.

It came in the first race of the day as well, a defeat for Marlow RC’s eight to Cantabrigian RC in the Thames Challenge Cup.

“That was emotional,” said Beecher, a trialist with the para-rowing squad. “We rowed as well as we could considering it was our first-ever side-by-side race.

“We have only been rowing together for a week as a crew, so our main aim was just to qualify.

“It’s great that there are a few of us para-rowers here. The weather is great and there is an amazing atmosphere, it’s just a pleasure to be a part of it.”

The GB Rowing Team para-rowing squad is supported by the National Lottery and Guide Dogs.