Inside the world of adaptive rowing

Jun 22, 2018

This story is a part of our special on the economics of disability. Listen to the podcast here and read this glossary of terms we used in our coverage throughout the show.

Teal Sherer is a fitness junkie. Sherer, an actor and writer, has been tapped into inclusive fitness since college. But Sherer says that finding a place in the fitness and wellness community wasn't always easy for her. 

She was injured in a car accident and paralyzed from the hips down at 14. In her Tennessee suburb, adaptive exercise just didn't exist. Sherer found community when she joined an inclusive dance group at her college. She met her husband in California while learning to surf with a program called Life Rolls On.

"[Exercise] made me feel strong again and confident," Sherer said. "I began to love my body and how it moved, and yeah, it worked a little differently for me, but that was OK."

Now Sherer rows with the Seattle adaptive rowing team, Seize the Oar, which was founded in 2013.

The crew is made up of wheelchair users, many of whom were just looking for good exercise when they first joined. Rowing is great for people who use wheelchairs because the rotation of their arms when they row is in the opposite direction of what they do when they propel themselves in their chairs. It helps balance things out.

The team started out on rowing machines in a CrossFit gym. Eventually, coach Tara Morgan brought everyone out on the water. Sherer and her Seize the Oar crew row in two-person teams, using straps to stabilize their legs inside the boats.

Rowing pairs are made up of people who have similar fitness goals or equivalent experience and strength. Sherer rows with Megan Knoernschild, Seize the Oar's youngest team member, a 19-year-old who goes to the University of Washington. They compete with Erin Martin and Amy Ruby, a very competitive pair of rowers whose team nickname is "Tiny Mighty."

Sherer and the rest of the team have been spending weekend mornings at Renton Rowing Center on Lake Washington, where baby ducks join them. They can see planes being built at the Boeing Factory next door.

They're preparing for competition, but for now, even practice is pretty great.