The GB Para-Rowing team show their skill in the Global Virtual Rowing Challenge

Benjamin Pritchard, Giedre Rakauskaite and Lauren Rowles have been competing against rowers around the world in the Global Virtual Rowing Challenge


Three members of the GB Para rowing squad have taken on a global rowing competition as part of their training through lockdown.

The first-ever Global Virtual Rowing Challenge was designed to give competitors an element of international competition with regattas cancelled through the summer. The para competition, supported by the Para Rowing Foundation, saw men and women competing against one another in the para-rowing categories.

Benjamin Pritchard won his PR1 event after a fantastic live-streamed final.

“It was a great competition.” Benjamin said. “I had a good draw and then faced off against the big dogs in the end. I’d never raced either of them side by side but saw them at the Worlds, so it was great to have the chance to compete against them.

“I’ve definitely made a step forward during lockdown. We’re really lucky as rowers that we have the ergo [indoor rowing machine] to train on as it’s so transferable to the water. Look at Tom George, he broke a team record – it’s pretty cool that we can keep pushing the boundaries in our own homes.”

Giedre Rakauskaite put in an incredible performance to finish third in her category: the only woman to win a podium prize in the para categories. She beat two of her male competitors en route to finishing third behind two of the US para-rowers.

“It was great to have something new and different”, Giedre said. “I knew some of the events were power events and I should push harder because I was against men – the minute challenge especially was so hard.

“The last two challenges were make-or-break and were both really tough, against some big names from the US team. I had nothing to lose so just went for it.”

Lauren Rowles finished fourth in her category after withdrawing early to set an age group world record in last month’s British Rowing Virtual Championships. It was a campaign to be proud of as she finished fourth behind the Dutch, US and French PR2 men and won a thrilling quarterfinal round against Annika Van Der Meer, her Dutch PR2 rival.

Chief Coach Tom Dyson said “The squad are in a really good place. When lockdown hit, we took the opportunity to individualise everything people were doing to make sure they were ready in September.

“The past few months have been a big opportunity for us as a team to be creative in a world where it’s easy to fall back to what you know. We’ve tried to mix it up, do things that are fun for the sake of being fun and see if there’s anything we can bring back to our normal training after lockdown is over. It’s rare to get the chance to completely shake up what has been a winning formula for us.

It’s also good for the rowers to have been able to compete – or not – based on how they’re feeling. Those who have competed will be race fit and ready to go, and those who have taken the time to rest will come back refreshed and reinvigorated.”

Benjamin added: “British Rowing have taken a really cautious approach to resuming training which is a good thing in the pandemic. A test group of rowers will be testing the new procedures over the next couple of weeks, then we’ll restart the new season in September.

“I’m definitely hungrier now to be part of the Paralympics than I would have been this year. These four months have given everyone time to really think about why you row and consider whether it is what you want. Now everything is aiming towards Tokyo next year. My goal is definitely a podium finish now, which I wouldn’t have said before.

“I struggled a bit initially with the extra time I had in the day, but decided I was going to reach out and do online PE lessons. I’ve had a huge take-up – the largest class I did was 192 children! I’ve also been linking in with my local rowing club and reaching out to my local community.”

For beauty therapist Giedre, the new change in government advice allowing salons to re-open is very welcome: “I’ve got people booked in for appointments now. I’ve been practicing treatments on my housemate Emily Craig – I need to retrain my muscles in my arms as my hands keep shaking!”