Athlete of the Month - October 2012
The success and longevity of Naomi Riches in adaptive rowing has put her at the top of her sport as one of the best adaptive rowers ever. Coming from Great Britain, Naomi made the national adaptive team after being reacquainted with the sport in 2004. Since then Naomi has watched the sport develop and grow as she has continued to compete every year.
Naomi, who is visually impaired, has never viewed her disability as a hindrance and that is how she has confronted rowing. Naomi has won every international race she has entered since 2009 and she talks to World Rowing, as the October Athlete of the Month, about her Paralympic experiences and where she is now.
World Rowing: How did you first get into rowing?
Naomi Riches: In 2004 I was asked to trial for Great Britain because FISA (the International Rowing Federation) had changed the rules to a mixed crew (the adaptive four now required two females in the crew). One of my friends in the crew knew that I’d tried rowing at college. I did a trial and got in. There were only two girls and Great Britain wanted to put in a crew (in the adaptive four) at the World Championships that year so they had to use me. I got to row about four times before the World Champs.
WR: What is your disability?
NR: I am visually impaired. The cones in my retina don’t work. So for me everything looks like a blurry overexposed black and white film. I was born like this. When I race I have to wear goggles (black out goggles).
It hasn’t been a problem for me because my parents made a point of not making it a problem. The only thing that I can’t do is drive.
WR: Are you a full time athlete?
NR: Yes. We didn’t get any proper funding until 2006. That’s when I became a full time athlete as we prepared for the Beijing Games.
WR: Have you ever taken a break from rowing since you got on the national team in 2004?
NR: No, I’ve gone straight through. I was still at university in 2004 and I got run over by a car. I was put into a medically induced coma for a week. I was pretty messed up. At that stage I deferred university. I think it was rowing that got me better quicker. The accident was in October and I was back in the boat before the end of the year.
WR: What was your training schedule leading up to the London Paralympics?
NR: Two to three sessions per day, six to seven days per week. Each day is a mixture of two water sessions or bike and water session or weights.
WR: Has there been competition for your seat in the boat?
NR: Yes, I missed out in 2010 because I had been beaten in seat racing by half a second. So I missed out on the World Rowing Championships. At that point I had to figure out how much I wanted it and whether to make another attempt and turn it around. I decided I wasn’t going to give up with London just around the corner.
WR: When you raced in the final at the London Paralympics did you already know the results and how Great Britain was doing in the previous races?
NR: As we were pushing off we heard Tom Aggar’s result and it was a surprise. But you have to stay in your bubble. Although we could all guess how he was feeling and we felt disappointed for him.
WR: What was your strategy for the final?
NR: We knew Germany were quick off the start, so we knew they were going to be quick and we’d have a fight on our hands, so we had to stick with what we knew and stick with them and not panic if we were down at the 500m.
WR: What were the last words from your coach before you pushed off?
NR: Oh god, no I can’t remember. She said some amazing stuff to us in the previous 24 hours. The main thing was that we should do what we know.
WR: Did you take a break after the Paralympics?
NR: Yes, I’m still on a break and haven’t yet been back in the boat. It’s been a media frenzy and we haven’t stopped. I’ve started light training now, but I’m going on holiday now for two weeks in Corsica.
World Rowing: You’ve just returned from Corsica. How was your holiday?
Naomi Riches: Wonderful. It was a nice break from normal routine. We did lots of hiking, kayaking and running on the beach.
WR: Did you think about rowing?
NR: A little bit. I’m a bit unsure of my future. Since getting back I’ve been out on the water once. I started official training last Monday, so I’m feeling a bit achy. But it’s nice to be back into a routine.
WR: Before you left for your holiday, you mentioned a media frenzy following the Paralympic Games. What sorts of things have you been asked to do by the media?
NR: A complete mixture of things. I’ve been on well-known TV shows – Sky, ITV, Channel Four. Since I’ve been back it’s been more things like photos, radio stations and local newspapers. Now the number of people who know what I’ve done is huge. The local interest is huge (in Marlow). There’s been a lot of interest from local schools for me to visit.
WR: What is the strangest thing you’ve been asked to do?
NR: I think the most weird was being invited to the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. They brought us up onto the stage with our medals to sing Rule Britannia. It was a very surreal moment. I’ve known about the Proms since I was a kid. Everyone was clapping and cheering and singing.
WR: Do you think the awareness of adaptive rowing has changed since the Paralympic Games?
NR: Yes, very, very much so. People’s knowledge of rowing was big, but now the knowledge of adaptive rowing is bigger. They know what different classifications mean and they didn’t see it as disabled people rowing, they just wanted to support their team. There’s been interest in new people wanting to come into the sport. Clubs are learning as well and they want to get adaptive rowing programmes.
WR: Now it’s been over a month since the Paralympic Games, what’s a stand-out memory for you of the Games?
NR: I think for me when we went into the friends and family area at Dorney Lake (after my race) and my partner, Tom was there and he couldn’t say a thing. He just looked at me and it was this look of relief. It was a silent moment between the two of us when we both know what each other was thinking.
WR: Did you get involved in the Olympics at all?
NR: We were on a training camp in Spain. We got to watch it (on TV) which was really good, but in Spanish commentary so we weren’t so sucked into it.
WR: Do people know that you are visually impaired?
NR: I have no obvious signs. To a lot of people have to say, ‘I’m registered as blind and they say, ‘hey?!’ When I was growing up when I was at school it was obvious because I wore huge glasses. I got hell from the other kids and also because I got help – for all of those reasons for kids to pick on you, I got. So I’ve tried hard not to make it noticeable. Now I do not mind asking for help.
WR:What was the biggest challenge for you in taking up rowing?
NR: It depends on where I would go. I want to a club that could deal with disabled rowers, so once I started going to other clubs (that did not have facilities for disabled rowers), I knew what I was doing.
WR: What did it feel like the first time you rowed?
NR: It was very exciting. I thought, look this is good fun, I really enjoyed it straight away. Only when they brought out the ergo and said that I needed to sit on it for 12km, and I thought, ‘what!?’ I knew I wanted to row right from the start.
WR: Have you ever tried a single or other boats?
NR: Yes, I’m ok in a single on a buoyed lake. I’m ok if I’m supervised.
WR: And where to from here?
NR: I’m taking one year at a time. A lot can happen in four years as I know from my experience in 2010.