Rowing for the Gold

package-rower.jpgBY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Staff Writer

On land, Ron Harvey and Angela Madsen use wheelchairs to get from place to place. But put either one of them in a rowboat and the next thing you know, they’re on the other side of the bay.
Harvey and Madsen are paraplegics. They are also world-class rowers who have won medals in the World Championship rowing competitions in different countries every year. More recently, Harvey and Madsen were selected to represent the United States in the international Summer Paralympics, which take place in Beijing, China in less than two weeks.
The Paralympic Games are a multi-sport event for athletes with physical, mental and sensorial disabilities. The games are held every four years, right after the Olympic Games and are governed by the International Paralympic Committee.
Although originally the name was a combination of “paraplegic” and “Olympic,” organizers now emphasize the sports event’s relationship to the Olympics. The name comes from the Greek word ‘para,” which means “beside” or “alongside.” It refers to the fact that the competition is conducted in parallel with the Olympic Games. Not all of the athletes competing in the Paralympics are paraplegic, although all of them have some kind of physical disability. The Paralympics are sometimes confused with the Special Olympics World Games, which are only for people with intellectual disabilities.
The Paralympics movement began in 1948, when a doctor– Ludwig Guttmann– organized a sports competition for World War II veterans with spinal injuries. Those games took place at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England and coincided with the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London. In 1952, athletes from the Netherlands joined their British counterparts and the games became an international sports event. It has grown dramatically since then. In 2004, 3,806 athletes from 136 countries participated in the Athens Paralympics. More than 4,000 athletes will compete in the Summer Paralympics in Beijing, which begin September 6 and last 12 days. The athletes will compete in and stay in the same facilities used for Olympics, including the popular Water Cube and Bird’s Nest stadium. The next Winter Paralympics will take place in Vancouver, Canada in 2010.
Last Friday, Harvey and Madsen’s friends and supporters threw a party for them at the Pete Archer Rowing Center, next to Long Beach’s Marine Stadium. About 65 people came to the event. Madsen could not attend because she was in Philadelphia training for the Doubles Race with her rowing partner. Harvey was there and he plans to head to Colorado on Friday (September 29) for team processing. The entire nine-member U.S Adaptive Rowing team will leave for Beijing on August 31.
“Our first race day is September 9,” Harvey said. “We will race September 9, 10 and 11.” Harvey will compete in the Men’s Arms-Only Single Sculls. “It’s a 1,000-meter race so it should take a little more than 5 minutes,” he said.
“This is the first time rowing has been in the Paralympics,” Harvey said. “It’s quite an honor to be there for the first rowing competition.”
Harvey has been training as a rower for 19 years. A bicycle accident left him paralyzed in the legs about seven years ago, and soon afterwards he switched to “adaptive rowing,” the form of the sport that accommodates people with physical disabilities. Harvey also uses a “handcycle” and has used it to compete in the Los Angeles and Long Beach marathons.
Harvey works as an engineer for Parker Hannifin in Irvine, but he is very dedicated to his sport as well. “I train as a rower for about an hour and a half six days a week,” he said. He rows in Marine Stadium and around Naples Island, and has a rowing machine at home.
“Going to the Beijing Summer Paralympics is pretty exciting,” Harvey said. “I have really enjoyed going to the World Championships in Munich, England, Japan and Spain, but they’re not quite at the same level. It’s going to be fun to participate in the rowing in Beijing, see all the other sports and meet the other athletes.”
In addition to being a world-class rower, Madsen is the founder of the California Adaptive Rowing Program (CARP), based in Long Beach. CARP gives training in adaptive rowing to children and adults with any kind of disability.
“Angela also just finished rowing across the Atlantic Ocean in a two-man rowboat,” said Cheryl Ross, a CARP volunteer. “It took 67 days and she was in one of the many two person rowboats that traveled from the Canary Islands to Antigua.”
For more information on the United States Paralympics Team, visit The official web site of the 2008 Summer Paralympics is

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