Braille Monitor                                                   May 2010

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Who Needs Water to Row in Dallas?

by Aerial Gilbert

From the Editor: Aerial Gilbert, outreach manager at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), has asked us to carry the following piece on a challenge activity that GDB will sponsor again at this year's convention. Here it is:

Four years ago at the NFB convention, even though no water was in sight, Dr. Marc Maurer and his son David rowed as though their lives depended on it. While still in their white button-down shirts and ties, they were fully engaged in a friendly father-son competition on stationary rowing machines. To the delight of spectators David emerged victorious. Ever the good sport, Dr. Maurer commented that adaptive rowing was a great opportunity to promote exercise and activity. Rowing was also a way for blind people of all ages to compete equally with those who have sight.

For Guide Dogs for the Blind this was an opportunity to introduce participants to an active lifestyle as well as the guide dog lifestyle. GDB coordinated efforts with the NFB Sports and Recreation Division to host the successful three-hour rowing event and tournament. The rowing event generated more than a hundred participants and spectators.

During the past three years the popularity of the event has grown, and rowing has influenced the lives of many participants. Washington, D.C., resident Dena Lambert, twenty-four, participated in the second rowing event in Atlanta. When she first participated in the sport, her health was compromised, and she wanted to find an activity she could do and enjoy. Dena was inspired by the rowing machine at the NFB convention, and it motivated her to find a way to continue with the sport. Dena’s continued success and interest in rowing led her to sign up for a learn to row class, and then she participated in her first regatta as the only blind athlete at her boathouse. Dena's health and fitness levels are now equal to those of a competitive athlete, and she rows year-round using rowing machines when the rivers freeze over.

Several goalball and Judo Paralympic athletes have tried rowing at the NFB convention and see this as a great sport to pursue for future Paralympics. Additionally, reports of teens competing on their high school and college rowing teams now abound. This year in Dallas NFB convention participants will once again have the opportunity to learn to row on the rowing machines and participate in friendly competition. Concept 2, the company that manufactures the rowing machines, will generously donate prizes for the event.

I am excited to share my two passions--rowing and guide dogs--with the participants of the NFB convention. Rowing is a sport I enjoyed in college before losing my sight, and I was able to continue to row after I became blind. I was on the U. S. National Adaptive Team for six years and helped bring rowing to the Paralympics in 2008. I continue to row on a local rowing team, where I am the only blind athlete out of four hundred rowers. I appreciate the opportunity to promote the sport of rowing and share school updates about Guide Dogs for the Blind through the NFB Sports and Recreation Division. Please come by the recreation area during the convention and give the rowing machine a try. But be careful. It may be addictive.

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