Adaptive rowers completely at home on the water
by Randy Pascal
Like much of the local sports community, the world of adaptive sport, in Sudbury, finds itself in a period of inter-seasonal transition. As winter
sports continue to gain momentum, summer and fall activities are slowing down.
For coach Thomas Merritt and the athletes within the adaptive rowing program, precious little time remains to enjoy the early morning stillness
of Lake Ramsey. All of which leaves a void for the devotees of the Sunday morning sessions in which Merritt would introduce newcomers to a sport for which
he is clearly passionate.
“I love being on the water,” noted Laurentian University School of the Environment professor Nicole Yantzi. “Being on the water and being
active is pretty awesome.” It’s also a stretch for the long-time Southern Ontario resident who moved to Sudbury in 2006, and severely doubted the fit she
would enjoy with para-rowing.
“Thomas approached me, because we’re both at Laurentian, and we were on a committee together,” recalled Yantzi. “I didn’t think it was for me. I thought
it was only for people who were paraplegics. But once I tried it, I was hooked. It’s a complete workout – legs, core, back – everything gets exercised.”
On this particular weekend morning that I visited, Yantzi is joined in her boat by rowing compatriot Barbara Courtin, while brothers Dominique
and Jean-Claude Perrin take turns garnering the attention of Merritt.
At 26 years of age, Dominique benefits from a much longer association with the sport than his younger sibling, with both young men also active within
the local Special Olympics chapter. “My mom heard about the program,” he said. “It never scared me, because I would do canoeing and kayaking at our
camp, so I’ve been used to being in boats since I was a kid.”
Much like Yantzi, Perrin acknowledged that there isn’t anything quite like the feeling of an early morning workout, under near ideal conditions. “It was
beautiful today, the water was calm,” he noted. “It’s easier when it’s calm.”
“Sometimes, we would row around the island, which is halfway to Moonlight Beach. We practice inside the boathouse when the weather isn’t that
good. The rowing machine is sort of the same as being on the water.”
Almost ten years younger and completing his studies at Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier, Jean-Claude Perrin acknowledges that while his older
brother is certainly the more accomplished paddler, the 17 year old has come a long way since picking up the sport two years ago.
“I try and row like others rowers do,” explained Jean-Claude. “The coach is with me in the boat, and he taught me how to do strokes. I can go rowing in
the boat when it’s not raining. I use the rowing machine when it rains.”
Perhaps better than any other, 23 year old Delmar Garlinski captures the essence of the importance that the para-rowing program can play in the
life of an athlete. “I have limitations when it comes to just walking, going on adventures, the Bell Park Pathway,” said Garlinski.
“That’s not really do-able for me. But I’m able to go around this whole bay in the kayak or a single scull. It’s a freeing feeling being able to
adventure outside of the norm. And if you look straight across at the really nice houses, well...I like to window shop,” he continued.
In the five to six years he has been involved with para-rowing, Garlinski has enjoyed the chance to both observe, and chat with, the able bodied members
of the Sudbury Rowing Club, understanding the changes that he must make to their training in order to truly enjoy his workout.
“A lot is the same,” he said. “But for athletes who do not have the use of their lower extremities, you have to adapt the form, the different muscle
groups that you can use. Thomas has been doing it for years now, and he’s really honed in on the perfect coaching technique, working the muscles that he
knows we have.”
If Yantzi noted the full-body workout that is traditionally involved in rowing, Garlinski is a case study in true “adaptive” sport. “We skip the
“driving with the legs” part,” he said. “Best to take it easy and really think about the movements you’re making.”
And while he would love to see just how far his training might take him, there is already plenty of positive upon which Garlinski can draw. “It’s hard
growing up as a disabled young person,” he said. “We can’t really go out skating, we can’t go out and enjoy the scenery – unless you do para nordic
“Programs like these are a great way to get out in the community and meet some awesome people that you wouldn’t if you just stayed at home.”
“Regardless of what your body can or cannot do, we need to all of us be at our strongest,” suggested Yantzi. “Everyone needs the opportunity to try
things out and see works for them.”
And to Garlinski goes the final word. “If you believe it, you can achieve it. That’s what I live by.”
Anyone seeking more information on the program is asked to contact Thomas Merritt at firstname.lastname@example.org – for all other programs being
offered by the Sudbury Accessible Sport Council, please contact either Patti Kitler at “pattikit.com” or Randy Pascal at