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Adaptive rowing has inspired MS sufferer with a new lease of life.



Hilary Birkinshaw, 43, from Guildford, took up adaptive rowing 3 years ago to help her stay active and mobile since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

From a young age, Hilary was a keen sports woman, running and rowing during her time at university and leading an active lifestyle. At the age of 34, Hilary was diagnosed with MS and 4 years later, suffered a major relapse that wiped her energy. MS has also severely decreased her range of movement; Hilary now walks using a stick, and occasionally uses a wheelchair.

Hilary almost lost hope of being active and able to challenge herself physically, struggling with the demands of day-to-day life and the feeling of reliance on family and friends. Hilary joined an MS support group in Guildford and it was here that she first heard about Guildford Rowing Club.

In 2009, inspired by news of a new but rapidly-developing adaptive rowing division, Hilary joined Guildford Rowing Club and got back out on the water. Hilary said, “I never thought I would be able to row again so being back out on the water makes me feel incredible. I am so delighted to be able to take part in a sport, meet new people and to benefit from being as mobile as I possibly can. Rowing has given me that level of independence that is sometimes missing in a life with disability issues.”

Robert Hall, Lead Coach at Guildford Rowing Club, said “The adaptive boats are suitable for people with a wide range of disabilities, and they are completely safe and stable to use. There always seems to be a solution to each individual’s issues, and most importantly it gives them the opportunity to stay active and healthy. We now have a waiting list of members, and we hope that as we increase in size, that more people will hear of the benefits of adaptive rowing.”

In 2011, Hilary took part in her first ever adaptive rowing race at the Henley Women’s Regatta. Showcasing adaptive rowing at such an iconic regatta was a key moment in the development of the flourishing sport in the UK. Hilary also took part in the British Rowing funded Adapted Rowing Camp during the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Guildford Rowing Club has purchased 4 single sculls and one double scull, suitable for adaptive rowers. Together with specialist oars and seats over £14,000 has been invested. The funds have been obtained from a wide range of charitable organisations including the Community Foundation for Surrey, the Rowing Foundation, and the Co-op Community fund.

Since the Paralympics wowed the nation this summer, interest in disability rowing has soared and many clubs are increasing capacity to cope with rising demand.  In 2009, funding from Sport England meant that British Rowing was able to invest in 300 Explore Rowing boats, ideal for learning, touring and easy to adapt for rowers disability to support adaptive rowing programmes 72 clubs. If you are interested to find out more about rowing for disabled people, please visit the website at