Following these ten days of training, many of the participants will take part in the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta which goes from 21-23 April 2016, also in Gavirate. The main Paralympic qualification took place at the 2015 World Rowing Championships and this Gavirate regatta is the last opportunity for crews to qualify for Rio. The results of the finals on 23 April, will decide which boats have qualified for Rio. In the four boat classes - AS men's and women's single sculls, TA mixed double sculls and LTA mixed coxed four - the top two boats will qualify for the Paralympics.  

The camp participants have been funded by the FISA development programme and The Agitos Foundation, which aims to introduce more countries to the sport of para-rowing and help support countries with their para-rowing programmes.  There were 51 athletes and 11 coaches from 11 countries in attendance. Five of these countries, having never fielded a para-rowing boat at the Paralympics, were fully-funded by Agitos to attend. The other six countries participated at their own cost to gain further experience and develop their para-rowing programmes.

The training site in Gavirate provided ideal conditions for these athletes and coaches. The Australian Institute for Sport has a fully-equipped training centre in Gavirate where the athletes had access to ergometers, weights, bikes, indoor rowing tanks and more. Each day the athletes and coaches attended a morning and an afternoon training session on the water, where the FISA coaches not only coached the athletes, but also coached the coaches.  The goal is that these coaches will be able to return to their countries and grow their para-rowing programmes. In the evenings, they had access to seminars on many topics such as recovery, classification, weight training and more.

A returnee from the 2015 camp, Kenyan single sculler Itaken Kipelian says the camp makes all the difference in the world. “In Kenya, I have a large wooden boat that is not properly equipped for para-rowing. I train mostly indoors. But coming here to Gavirate and getting in the racing single, I feel like I am flying on the water, it is incredible” says Kipelian.

For some teams, the camp was the first time they were able to go out on the water. “In Sri Lanka we don’t have access yet to para-rowing boats,” says Sri Lankan coach Lasantha Welikala. “We have been training indoors to prepare for the camp, but in these ten days, I can’t believe the growth I have seen in my crew.” Welikala was a rower himself and has been coaching for almost 20 years. A rowing enthusiast, he went searching for people to learn para-rowing. “We are here just to get experience,” Welikala says. “Once we are able to get boats in Sri Lanka, we will continue to grow the programme.”

Despite the varying levels of experience, all participants spoke about the community atmosphere created at the camp.

“We might be competing against one another, but you don’t really feel it at the camp,” says Heidi Pahl from Austria. “If someone’s boat breaks, or if someone needs help with something, we are all ready to help. It is a really nice atmosphere.”

For more on the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta click here