Visual Impaired Rowers: How to listen to the commands

A few days ago, Sharon Wienbar has talked about the concept of guiding visual impaired rowers. Today, she is givin an insight of the commands.

Rabbiting commands: 

Most of the rabbit commands are similar to bowing a double or quad: 

  • Ready, row
  • Port, starboard or even pressure
  • In two, weigh enough 
  • etc.

Steering

Ideally, a VI rower can hold a point after the rabbit calls for even pressure. Constantly adjusting is painful as it slows the boat and wrecks the zen. But all rowers have moments that toss the boat to one side or another and currents, tides and wind scoot the boat off course. The VI rower can’t steer off his or her stern deck and may not have any visual spatial awareness, so the rabbit must anticipate mother nature and the rower’s habitual pulls to set a course. If the rabbit has experience with the rower and conditions, he/she can anticipate drift and allow for longer runs between corrections.

Other senses also give the rower feedback on direction. Keep the sun on one cheek or the wind to a specific angle. The rabbit announces a line and urges the rower to control the course. Like a coxwain, rabbits should also explain where the rower is on the course. “We’re about to make the turn into the main channel,” “We are going to spin 90 degrees and then row across to the lee of the island,” etc. help the rower feel in command of his/her row.

Technique Feedback

Visual impaired rowers at a regatta

In BIAC’s “Everybody Rows” sessions, a professional coach provides technique feedback. The rabbit guides and reinforces, but doesn’t issue stroke-by-stroke critiques. That said, VI rowers have the exact frustration all rowers have: consistently putting together all the pieces of a beautiful and strong stroke. If a technical flaw causes directional pulling, the rabbit should point that out. Technical feedback to a VI rower must be precise and describe spatial transitions that a sighted rower would observe. In other programs, a rabbit might coach as well as steer the rower.

Racing

Many regattas offer adaptive and para-rowing events, including for visually impaired rowers. Rabbiting a race is very similar to coxing. The rower can’t see the lane markers to make subtle adjustments, and a few hard strokes at race pace can put the rower in another lane. The Rules of Rowing allow a rower to finish in another lane from where he/she started as long as there is no interference with other rowers, so the rabbit should get the rower straight and just keep going if there’s a lane change. Like a treasured coxswain, announce and control the stroke rating, the distance and position in the race, and keep the rower focused and relaxed. And give a big cheer as the rower chases the rabbit across the finish line.

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