As much as the sporting world has been impacted by COVID-19 and the Olympic postponement, the past year has hit the adaptive and Paralympic community just as hard, if not harder. row2k caught up with the PR2 Mix2x of Russell Gernaat and Laura Goodkind after their trials win and Paralympic qualification for Tokyo at Mercer County racecourse earlier this week.
row2k: What were your thoughts and your initial reactions after the regatta this week?
Laura Goodkind: Well, there were a lot of last minute changes, and I feel like our preparation really allowed us to handle those with ease. We really appreciated being able to row down the buoyed course against another boat; it doesn't happen often in the States. And being able to represent the country after the completion of this race is a great honor. Being able to row with Russell and with Alice [Henderson] as our coach is great; it has been a solid team for two years now and I'm looking forward to going to Tokyo with them.
Russell Gernaat: It was great that obviously we qualified the boat in Austria in 2019. Today it's the icing on the cake so to speak, we won trials and we are also the people who qualified it. So it was just really good. It's a great feeling. Of course, we're already looking ahead to all the training we've got to do over the next four months or so to really focus on Tokyo.
The guys in Europe were looking really good. We obviously looked at their championships and everyone's getting ready. It's going to be a challenge, but it's going to be a good time as well. So we're really looking forward to it.
row2k: How did you experience the past year, and what kind of modifications did you all have to make to continue your training?
Goodkind:Well, the first five or six months we didn't train together. We were both sick, pretty sick in different ways, and so that was one of the hindrances. Fortunately, in October of last year Chula Vista opened it up for doubles to row together. We realized early on that rowing more frequently together will likely improve and enhance our performance. And that proved to be entirely beneficial.
Gernaat: For me, what Laura was mentioning about being sick, I like to say I got COVID before it was cool. I came down with a case of pneumonia last December, really out of the blue. I was perfectly fine and a couple of days later I was coughing blood, and went to the emergency room. It had a big impact on my training.
The thing that was actually beneficial to my training because of COVID was that my company went to remote employees. Having the flexibility in my schedule to train whenever I had a moment really helped me. I bought a bunch of equipment and I filled a room in my house so I could do training.
Plus, I am blessed to actually live on a lake. I have a boat and I can go row on that lake. Having that flexibility gave me the time to still train the volume that's needed to compete at this level in spite of the COVID situation.
Last minute adjustments before the final
Goodkind: I had to alter my training because, where my boat is stored, the people who help me get it on the water weren't having their programing as usual. Fortunately I already had an erg, which is great because they all sold out immediately with the pandemic. I had that and then I just did a lot of other cross-training.
In addition to physical stuff, I did a program to help me work on my mindset, which was a huge benefit to me being able to amplify my performance individually and as a team.
row2k: For some teams the pandemic has been helpful as you looked into your training, your methods, your equipment. Have you made any adjustments either within your actual rowing or within your rig over the last year that you feel has been to your advantage?
Gernaat: I think that in and of itself almost encapsulates para-rowing. You're always tweaking, you're always doing things. For instance, I have a 3D printer and I printed blocks that go under my rigger to raise it up a couple of inches. I just can't rock as far forward because of the impingement in my hips and I need that height at the rigger. We already have sweep pins on the rigger to give me height but these risers give it some more.
I was able to spend time tweaking and building different spacers until we came to what we felt was optimal for us, or for me in the boat in my situation.
Goodkind: And we did some adjustments to my seat and that has definitely improved my ability to have a more optimal stroke, a better connection.
row2k: It looks like you are using the new Concept2 Comps sculls, is that the case?
Gernaat: We have been using the C2 Comps for the last two months. Concept2 asked us, "we want to get your feedback on these. Would you please try them out and see what you think?" We said, "Sure." We've been making a lot of gearing changes, when I first started rowing I was rowing with something like 290cm oars. Especially as PR2, I can manage that load but the stroke rate is really low and it really just isn't helpful. We've been making some changes and I feel like the Comp2 blades have helped with that.
Gernaat: They have some real advantages. I feel like they head into the water a little softer but they load up really quick, which is cool. We didn't want to make changes going into the race, but once I tried them, I thought, "I like them enough. Let's just go with it and see what we can do." And then Laura said, "All right, we just need the right length." So they sent us another set in the length that we needed.
Goodkind: And we're really appreciative that they have loaned them out as long as they have to us because it's always a little bit of trial and error and there's no guarantee what we'll use in a month from now. It's good to be able to have the flexibility to try out a lot of different sets.
Goodkind and Gernaat on the course at Mercer
row2k: What does your preparation for Tokyo look like now?
Gernaat: I think obviously the goal for us is to not just go to the Paralympics, but try and podium. And I'm sure that's everyone's goal and it's going to be a race to get there. So I think a lot of focus now is going to be on athletic performance, right? We've certainly done quite a bit of base building over the last year and a half, and now it's going to be, let's just build that performance to what we hope is a medal standard type row.
We have a goal in mind and we're going to be putting together a plan in the next couple of weeks to achieve that goal. We have a set time that we have in mind and then hopefully the competition can draw even more of that out of us.
Goodkind: We're hoping to find some rowers, even if it's just from the local clubs, people we can race against to really just have that feeling of being against someone and not always just against ourselves and the clock.
row2k: Given everything the fact that COVID is still really very much with us, are you looking forward to Tokyo with hope, optimism, pride, steely resolve, or a mixture of all of those things?
Goodkind: We hope for the best, prepare for the worst. I feel really glad that there's probably going to be more media coverage because they're not having foreign spectators. And that's great because then that means there's support worldwide as opposed to just in the stands.
It's a mixed bag, but ultimately we come to race. The primary goal is racing and doing as well as we possibly can. All those other factors are kind of like sprinkles on top of the cake, they're not necessary but it's nice to have them. Without them it's okay, the cake is still going to taste good, we're still going to perform well.
Gernaat: I also think that I approach it with complete confidence that the Games are going to be held. We're in a great time technology-wise. COVID has actually kind of catapulted that forward and I think it's a time where society itself is much more in tune with things like that, watching things together online.
I think the world is ready to see an event like the Paralympics where the majority of the spectators will be remote and it's all going to be done through video. I feel like it's a done deal, we're just getting ready.