Not long after Johanna Beyer moved to Boston and began post doctorate work at Harvard University, the Austrian native's attention was drawn to the crews rowing on the Charles River.
They are an everyday sight for someone that walks and bikes the river's pathways, and it was not long before Beyer started thinking about trying rowing. But, she was unsure at first if the sport would be appropriate for her.
Diagnosed with bone cancer as a teen, by the time Beyer was 20, her condition led to the amputation of her right leg. But Beyer was not deterred from being active. A teen swimmer and runner, she had already tried two para sports, including swimming and wheelchair tennis, and she walked and biked daily along the Charles.
Still, she was unsure if there was a place for her on the river. Then, five-years ago, Beyer was out for a spring bike ride and cycled past the CRI, Inc. boathouse in Brighton and saw a sign about para rowing and an upcoming para rowing identification event.
"They had this huge sign about para rowing and had an event called Go for Gold coming up," she said. "It was the first time I was aware that there might be para rowing. When I got home, I Googled it and found the event was open. So, I just showed up and checked it out.
"Everyone at CRI was so nice and friendly, but I said I didn’t want to just erg, I wanted to go on the water." And they were happy to accommodate her.
This week, Beyer will be in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, racing the PR3 (legs, trunk, and arms) mixed double in the 2018 World Rowing Championships. It will be her third World Championships representing Austria.
Beyer at the CRI morning para practice
Though it may sound like Beyer went from an identification event right to the Austrian national team, it did not happen that quickly. With years of work and research ahead of her at Harvard, Beyer's focus was not on international competition.
She was also not even aware Austria had a para rowing team - or that they would be interested in her.
So, her first strokes in rowing took place on the Charles River. Beyer rowed in a trainer, and liked the idea of sculling, but did not know if she could row a single.
"The overall rowing stroke came kind of natural to me. I was more worried about balance because with one leg I wasn't sure. I saw how narrow all those boats were and I was not sure that would work for me."
That did not stop her from trying, and pushing the CRI coaches to move her along.
"They started me out in a tubby and that worked for a while and then I kind of kept pushing, and asked my coaches, can I try the B boat, then, can I go to an A boat, so I was always the one pushing them and asking if I could go to the next boat to see where my limits were. I think they were very good at knowing when I was ready to try the next boat."
Before long, Beyer not only found that she could balance a single, but that she had an ability to move the boat enough to compete in local open and masters races.
That's when the CRI coaches brought up the idea of international rowing. "I asked her right away when she joined if she was interested in rowing for the US," said CRI Director of Outreach and US para-rowing coach Ellen Minzner. "She said, 'I can't, I'm Austrian.' So, I told her to call Austria."
Beyer was hesitant, thinking that living in the US and not having experience would deter any interest. But that was not the case.
"In the beginning, I thought I wasn't good enough, or it wouldn't work because I am here in Boston all the time, that it doesn't make sense," Beyer said. "But (the CRI coaches) kept pushing me and I did contact them and found out they were actually looking for more para rowers.
"I emailed them and they were super nice and friendly and said, yes that's awesome, the next time you are in Austria we should meet up."
As timing would have it, Beyer was scheduled for a trip home two weeks later and in time for the Austria national championships. "Two weeks later, I met all the para rowers and was able to race there."
Beyer ended up rowing at the 2016 Senior World Championships in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, where she took second and has been part of the Austrian team every year since. "All the coaches are super nice, and because I am always in Boston, we try to schedule a couple of races a year where I can come over for a training camp," she said.
While in Boston, Beyer trains with the CRI para rowing team, and races as often as she can. This spring, Beyer raced in a double in an inclusion event at the National Invitational Rowing Championships in Worcester, and in a single at several local regattas in masters and open events.
"I'm happy that it has worked out this way where I can live and train in Boston but still have good contact to the Austrian team. I love rowing. I've done so many different sports growing up during my day, and I tried different para sports and rowing is my favorite. I just love every aspect of it."
Beyer in the inclusion double at the National Invitational Rowing Championships this spring