Athlete of the Month – September 2015
French para-rower Perle Bouge is this year’s world bronze medallist in the para-rowing double sculls event. She and partner Stéphane Tardieu also won silver at the 2014 World Rowing Championships, as well as in 2013 at the worlds in Korea. Their first participation at the Paralympic Games was at London 2012, where they took silver. They have now qualified their boat for Rio 2016.
Bouge talks to World Rowing about her discovery of rowing, the accident that led to her disability and her hopes for para-sport in France.
World Rowing: How did you discover the sport?
Perle Bouge: I discovered this sport within the frame of my job. My current club needed to receive expertise regarding pontoon accessibility for people with a disability and regarding appropriate practices. So I tried out the sport randomly.
I discovered a sport related to nature, where the wheelchair is left on the pontoon. In rowing, you have to reach beyond your physical limits. You also need to be in tune with the boat to feel it glide. This sport is physical and technical. Each time you go out in the boat, it is different. I permanently need to question myself, which allows me to blossom, enjoy myself and progress.
I also enjoy the mixed-gender aspect of the sport at the elite level.
WR: What other sports have you practiced?
PB: Before my accident, I did a combat sport (karate). I then discovered wheelchair basketball at the rehabilitation centre and practiced this sport for nine years within the French national female team. I still continue to practice basketball with my club at the French championship level. I am the only woman on my team and I appreciate the solidarity between my teammates. The men’s physical level pushes me to face up to them in order to progress. I have found the right balance between basketball playing and rowing.
As my national trainer says, “You play basketball and you practice rowing.” I like playing and practicing. I think it is also possible to play and have fun in rowing. I also do jet skiing and quad-biking.
WR: Describe the journey that led you to become an elite Paralympic athlete?
PB: Wheelchair basketball allowed me to discover elite sport thanks to my participation at the European and World Championships. But I really discovered high performance thanks to rowing. Indeed, I appreciate the rigour, the consistency, and the selection methods applied to become part of the French team. I always loved meeting challenges and am a competitor at heart.
WR: Who are the most influential people in your sports career?
PB: My basketball club coach who often advises me on sports-related enquiries. One of my former national team wheelchair basketball coaches who taught me how to work to become an elite athlete. His motto is “work, work and more work." And, I will not forget, my current rowing coach who considers me as a sportsperson and not as a handicapped person.
WR: What is your disability?
PB: I suffered multiple traumas following a motorbike accident when I was 19 years old. I especially have sequelae on my left side due to a multitude of fractures.
WR: Do you train full time?
PB: I am not a professional rower. I work outside of rowing, but can arrange my job around rowing. I juggle between training and my professional life on a daily basis.
WR: Do you have the opportunity to train together regularly with your teammate Stéphane Tardieu?
PB: I live in Bayonne, in South-West France and Stéphane lives in the Paris region. We both train on our own in our own clubs and meet at national training camps organised by the federation.
WR: How do you and Stéphane complement one another in the boat?
PB: I am a perfectionist and I especially see everything that is not working properly. I am also impulsive. On the other hand, Stéphane rather sees the positive aspects during training and is impatient. We confide in one another a lot and that is what makes our boat strong I think.
WR: How would you describe your main rivals?
PB: Great Britain has a boat that is developing well and has strong potential. Australia’s crew always rises to the challenge. Brazil is a solid crew. Ukraine’s boat never breaks from the pack. In summary, it is a very dense boat class and the tiniest mistake can cost dearly.
WR: What is a typical day like for you?
PB: I have no typical day. I juggle between work and training, depending on my business travels. So I train either in the morning or in the evening.
WR: Could you summarise your weekly training programme?
PB: I alternate between sessions in the boat and weightlifting sessions, and at certain times of the year, or depending on weather conditions, I erg.
WR: How would you describe the current status of para-rowing in France?
PB: There are few professional sports in France and rowing is not one of them. For para-rowing there is little development and high performance depends entirely on a small number of athletes. I think we should be attentive and consider the future if we want to prevent this discipline from declining. In 2012 France had three para-rowing boats in London. In 2016 there should be two. And in 2020?
WR: Which result are you most proud of so far?
PB: My medal at the Paralympic Games in London. And my first medal at my first international competition in 2010 also has a special flavour for me.