Ron Harvey has been involved in para rowing long enough to have competed when the championships were called the Adaptive World Rowing Championships and it was basically a separate event run during the same week and on the same venue as the World Rowing Championships.
He has been part of the movement long enough to see the addition of women to the sport, as well as its inclusion on the Paralympics schedule. He rowed in two Paralympics and seven Adaptive or World Rowing Championships.
When he retired from competition after the London Paralympic Games in 2012, he thought his racing days were over, but he stayed close to the water to stay fit, and coached to stay connected.
But when he could not find a mixed double partner to row with Laura Goodkind, an athlete he was coaching, for the 2018 US Senior and Para Team Trials, he got in the boat himself. Tuesday, Harvey was back doing what he loves the most, racing. And, at 47, he is feeling good about the changes he sees in the sport he has spent so much time in.
Harvey and Goodkind rowed in the PR2 mixed double preliminary race and while they finished last in the six-boat field, they accomplished what they wanted to do - get in a first race together and test themselves as a crew.
"We had a decent race," Harvey said. "We were having a little problem with our direction in the wind, so we need to keep a straighter course for the next race and I think we can. Hopefully we can beat Latvia and move up on the rest of the course and get a better time."
Harvey and Goodkind were among two US para crews that began their 2018 World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria Tuesday morning, including men's PR1 (arms and shoulders) men's single sculler Blake Haxton, who finished second to advance to the semifinal.
"All in all, I'm pretty happy with the piece," said Haxton. "I think I'm moving the boat as well as I ever have, so I've got to be happy with that."
While they are separated by 20-years in age, both Harvey and Haxton are experiencing competition in an evolving sport that has undergone significant changes in just the last two years.
To understand the complexity of the events that para rowers are competing in now, an examination of the changes the sport has experienced since its inception is necessary. Some of those changes were subtle, like dropping the name from Adaptive Rowing to Para Rowing.
And some have been significant.
Some of the more consequential changes were changing the length of the races from 1000 meter races to the full 2000 meters able bodied athletes row, allowing the equipment to become lighter and less restrictive to speed and movement, and bringing new events onto the schedule that allow for a second sweep event and provide athletes the opportunity to compete more than once in a single championship.
Those kinds of changes take time to figure out for the athletes. In Haxton's event, for example, boat pontoons previously needed to make constant contact with the water. That was changed this season, and while they are required to be on the riggers, they do not need to make contact with the water at all.
That change allows athletes to row faster than ever before. Reigning World Champion Erik Horrie of Australia set a new best time for the event of 9:25.11 Tuesday in his heat, which was eight seconds faster than the new best time set earlier this season by Paralympic Champion, Roman Polianskyi of Ukraine.
Haxton was racing for the first time internationally this season and is still getting used to being pontoon free. He is, however, happy with the change and to be going faster, while he is still working on the adjustments needed in his rigging.
"I'm kind of fighting it," he said. "When they brought the pontoons up, I'm not as set." Haxton doesn’t have complete function in his left hand, causing differences in hand levels that were not as obvious when the pontoon touched the water and kept the boat even through the race. He said he is thrilled to have the ability to go faster and not drag pontoons down the course, but he is still making the necessary changes.
"I am having a little trouble holding onto the oar at the catch, so I have to work on that a little bit," he said. "So, if I can get that figured out, I think I will be able to get a little more juice out of it."
While these changes require adjustment, they are uniformly welcome in the sport.
That Harvey had gotten back in a boat and raced at all after five years of retirement and at 47-years-old was a personal and fulfilling accomplishment on its own. But it is the changes in the sport that he is finding the most promising.
"It's nice to be back and it's fun to be in this environment and see all the young people and just being back in the racing environment," he said. "I've always loved racing and that's why I have done it for so long. It's good to be back out on the water.
"The sport has definitely progressed a lot," Harvey said. "The first couple of years it seemed almost like it was just an exhibition event, and then it became more accepted. Now, we're rowing (2000-meters), we can participate with the rest of the able-bodied athletes. We can do the same distance with them, race at the same times, and it's feeling much more integrated.
"And that's just wonderful for our sport and advancing it."
Notes From the Course
Tuesday was the shortest day on the competition schedule. In addition to the para heats, 11 reps were run, including the men's four, which saw the US men's entry finish third, eliminating them from medal contention. They row next in the C/D semifinal.
When racing begins again Wednesday, the last set of heats on the schedule will include the men's and women's eights. See the full schedule here.
One detail of no importance, but still worth noting (this is the notes section) is that in the men's two heats, the first race includes only crews from countries whose first language is English. That second heat no English-speaking countries.
#Plovdogs There are a few other types of dogs on the venue in Plovdiv than the ones that have rowed as terriers or bulldogs or huskies, and they are doing their best to keep security tight on the venue.
Keeping Andrew Campbell, Jr. in line
Keeping the body balanced, several of guys from Canada's men's eight dropped to do pushups on the recovery dock after morning practice.