Ann Marie Medlar and Nancy Olson are like most rowers, except Medlar is blind and Olson lost both of her legs in a car accident.
BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER
It’s early. The sound of rowing machines beat the sun to the Halifax River.
Soon, two of those working the exercise machines take to the water in boats, just like many others have done on many a morning from the docks of the Halifax Rowing Association.
What makes many of these rowers different, though, are their disabilities: Ann Marie Medlar is blind, the result of a 1979 car wreck, and Nancy Olson, in 1983, lost both of her legs in a car accident.
Medlar and Olson are members of the Halifax Rowing Association’s Vision Impaired Rowing Society and Adaptive Rowers on Water teams. And on this particular early October morning, they’re out on the river, their oars in near perfect harmony.
If you hadn’t seen Medlar helped into her boat, oars placed into her hands, you’d never know, standing on the docks or watching from the water, that she couldn’t see her surroundings.
The pair work twice a week, 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., with their teammates Kathleen Trutschel and Willie Scales, and their coaches Ronn Bell, Denis Shelley and Hugh Stevenson. Rowing is part of their routine.
But all that could come to an end Nov. 16, when Bell says the program’s funding will dry up.
Medlar, who joined the association earlier this year and writes its grants, hopes to fix that, though.
“When I came down here, even though I may not have seemed nervous, I was really shaking in my boots,” Medlar said. “Here I am, trying to penetrate this club, with all these different people. I felt somewhat intimidated.”
But her nerves were unnecessary.
“I was pretty much welcomed,” she said. “And that’s not always the case when you’re disabled. Lots of times, it’s a more negative feeling. And everything has been very positive with HRA.”
After some work, Medlar got good enough to be the rower setting pace on an eight-person boat with other able-bodied rowers. Then, the coaches asked her to start a program for blind and physically disabled rowers.
With a $2,500 check from the Chatlos Foundation nonprofit, the association had enough funding for 10 weeks, and they started reaching out to local agencies, looking for rowers.
One of those rowers was Olson, a two-time paralympic tennis athlete, who got a call one day from Medlar, out of the blue.
“I know that rowing is going to change my life again,” Olson said. “I know I’m going to get more physically fit, and healthier.”
Started in September, the group is already showing showing signs of a typical team of athletes. They complain about sore muscles and practice, and then they give each other a hard time for doing so.
“It helps with your posture, your body language, your confidence,” Medlar said of rowing. “(It) alleviates depression, isolation and loneliness. It made me friends. And I’m involved. It’s been great.”
Olson needs a customized, two-person boat because, like all club rowers, she can’t row alone. Her boat has pontoons on each side and an adjustable seat.
“All that someone gets through sports, it’s 10-fold for the disabled population,” she said. “Because lots of times, socialization is cut off.”
But the rowing association has done what it could, piecing together a boat for Olson. Her rig is adjusted and improved each time it’s taken on water — as is her technique.
Regardless of funding limitations, Bell still has plans for the rowers to compete, and in expanded programs.
“The Vision Impaired Rowing Society is really to just get the program off the ground,” he said. “We don’t want to be limited to just the vision impaired.”
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