Left to Right: Deb Arenberg, USRowing; Dr. Eli Reshef; Audrey Farnum; Rob Jones; Natalie McCarthy
Rob Jones grew up on a farm in Lovettville, Virginia. While being deployed as a Marine in Afghanistan, he lost both legs above the knee to an improvised explosive device (IED). Audrey Farnum, an Oklahoma City lawyer, lost her vision at a very young age. Natalie McCarthy of Seattle lost her vision at age 10 following brain surgery for a tumor. Rob Jones adopted rowing during his rehabilitation and, along with Oksana Masters, won a Bronze medal in the mixed LTA double at the London Paralympics in 2012. In 2013, he completed a bicycle trip across America. Audrey Farnum rows competitively with the Oklahoma City Masters program. Her passion is rowing a single. Natalie McCarthy competes in national and international rowing events (including winning a Bronze medal at the World Championship in South Korea in 2013) and is currently vying for a position on the U.S. national para-rowing team.
Rob, Audrey, and Natalie shared their inspiring stories at the Courage on the Water event in Oklahoma City on January 30 with a full house at the Devon Boathouse on the Oklahoma River. Many in the audience were people with disabilities. The event was created by Dr. Eli Reshef, a rower himself, in order to galvanize potential adaptive athletes to row for recreation and competition. The Courage on the Water event was sponsored by Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation (OKCBF), headed by Mike Knopp, and INTEGRIS Health, Oklahoma's largest health care system, headed by Bruce Lawrence.
Other supporters of the event included the Oklahoma City Veterans Administration Hospital, University of Central Oklahoma, Sabolich Prostheses and Research, and USRowing. Deb Arenberg, a USRowing Adaptive Program Specialist, also spoke at the event, sharing her 25 years' experience with the audience, and conducted an adaptive rowing workshop the next day.
The Oklahoma City Boathouse District along the Oklahoma River has a 5000 meters course used by rowers and canoe/kayakers. It was built by a unique collaborative effort between business and public funds and boasts three modern boathouses, a Finish Line tower, RIVERSPORT Adventures (featuring a 700 foot zip line across the Oklahoma River), and a Whitewater venue (to be completed in 2016). Named a U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Site by the U.S. Olympic Committee, the OKC Boathouse District is one of only a few training sites across the nation to earn this prestigious designation. Together with USA Canoe/Kayak and USRowing, the OKC National High Performance Center provides coaching, training facilities, and financial support for America's elite athletes. It also has large corporate, Junior, and Masters rowing programs, and serves as home for Oklahoma City University and University of Central Oklahoma rowing teams.
"When I finish a strenuous rowing session in the early morning and then watch a spectacular sunrise," says Dr. Reshef, " I feel extremely lucky to enjoy the fruits of the hard labor invested in the creation of the Boathouse District, made possible through the vision of a few but the hard-earned dollar of many Oklahoma taxpayers and businesses." "These gifts, this sunrise over the water," he adds, "should be available to all, including people with disabilities."
The event was part of a concerted effort by OKCBF, INTEGRIS Health, the Veterans Administration, and USRowing to expand the adaptive rowing program in Oklahoma City. USRowing has received a grant from the Veterans Administration to support adaptive rowing. Oklahoma City Veterans Administration Hospital is one of the recipients of this grant and is developing a rowing program for veterans, including those with disabilities. "We are now recruiting adaptive rowers for our upcoming Stars and Stripes regatta on June 28, 2015," says Mike Knopp. "We would like to make this regatta a signature event for disabled rowers and are willing to assist individuals and teams make this a reality."