‘I can walk around and everything, so I never thought of myself as someone who would qualify as a Para-rower’
Rob Sargent didn’t realise he would qualify as a Para-rower, but having been classified as an LTA competitor he’s now off on his first development squad training camp
Three years ago Rob Sargent didn’t even realise he qualified as a Para-rower, now he’s getting ready to go on his first overseas training camp with the Para Development Programme alongside multiple Paralympic champions.
Born with a club foot, it took a conversation with a physio at his Cambridge ‘99 RC for Sargent, now 29, to even consider attending an adaptive classification, which he did in November 2014.
Having graduated from university, travelled in the USA and struggled to find a job that inspired him, Sargent found it was joining his local rowing club that gave his life structure and meaning, with his preconceptions of an elitist sport dashed in his first session.
“I started rowing out of the desire to meet people and that has ended up giving me this ambition and drive, which has really helped me out mentally,” he said. “I feel like I have a place that I belong, now. When you’re in a boat with other people you are working together for a common goal.
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“I did not see this coming and it’s given me a new lease of life and I now see a lot of things differently. It’s made me complain a lot less and start taking responsibilities for my actions. I now push through those challenges that I would have previously run away from.”
Sargent admits he ran away from a few challenges before he found rowing, although he never wanted to be judged for his disability.
Having been initially apprehensive about exploring the opportunity that Para-rowing offered, Sargent got in touch with the coaches at British Rowing’s national training centre in Caversham, who soon invited him down to be assessed.
“I had been rowing by this point for a year and I didn’t really realise that my club foot would classify me [as a Para-rower],” he said. “When it comes to disability, there are a lot of people who have it worse than I do, so I didn’t want to go [to classification] under the auspices of ‘I’m a disabled person’.
“I can walk around and everything, so I never thought of myself as someone who would qualify as a Para-rower. It wasn’t until my physio said to me that my ankle range would probably classify me.
“I went down [to Caversham] and I was at the Redgrave-Pinsent Rowing Lake. A year beforehand I didn’t really know about the sport, and here I am at one of the most prestigious rowing establishments in the world. I got a bit overawed by the amazing fleet and then had the physio bend me all sorts of ways in the most professional way possible.
“I was amazed by how relaxed it was – another really welcoming experience that I didn’t really expect”
“Again, I was overawed by how knowledgeable and supportive everyone was. I was amazed by how relaxed it was – another really welcoming experience that I didn’t really expect. It felt good to be there; it felt right.”
Having been challenged to reach the target times set by the world-class coaches and support staff on the Development Programme, Sargent returned to his home club and battled back from illness to hit the required time at the British Rowing Indoor Championships in 2015.
Now he’s packing his bags for his first Development Programme camp in Cerla, northern Spain, and wants to encourage any other potential Para-rowers to follow in his footsteps.
“There are probably people out there who have a condition like club foot, or are slightly visually impaired, or something else that would classify them as a Para-rower,” he said.
“I honestly would encourage these people to just try rowing out. You’ll get to meet some amazing people and you never know where it’ll lead. Two years ago I would never have expected to be on the Development Programme and preparing to go on these training camps.”