Monday, 6 April 2015

Classification changes in Paracanoe

This is not a happy or even a particularly positive blog. The world of para canoe is going through change less than 18 months from Rio. Because of these changes a lot of people's hopes and dreams are being shattered.  I understand the logic behind the changes, and in the long run it is in the best interests of the sport, but to choose to do it all now is awful. 

Sometimes when you are caught up in the middle of a change which you are physically and emotionally invested in it is very difficult to see the bigger picture. It is easy for your focus to spiral inwards, taking all rational and logical thought processes with it. This is how I have been feeling about the changes to paracanoe as announced recently by our governing bodies. 

paddling at the worlds 2014

The changes are drastic. Half way through an olympic cycle the original classification adapted from para rowing has been abandoned and reinvented. This means that all the para canoe athletes who were classified at the beginning of this cycle, who were confirmed internationally, who have trained daily for more than two years, and raced believing they are an A, TA or LTA have had their classification removed. We are all having to be reclassified under a new system before we can race internationally again. Worse than that, many athletes who were classified before are no longer even eligible to attend classification. Paracanoe no longer accepts athlete with any arm or hand impairments, nor any athlete with a neurological condition such as cerebral palsy. 
The first paralympic qualification race for Rio is less than 4 months away and at this moment in time there are no classified athletes and no one knows for certain what their new (if at all) classification will be. We are to be reclassified under the new system, which for me will hopefully be at the Europeans in the Czech Republic in May, by the newly trained classifiers. 
My team mates
This decision was made in an office somewhere by people thinking long term, but has affected real people on the ground now. It's not just the athletes who have been affected - our coaches and staff in support programs are all feeling it too. Real people have given up jobs, moved house, neglected personal relationships and invested their own money and time in a system they thought would be in place through to Rio. Yes I understand that elite sport is unpredictable and unforgiving, but most of the time if you don't succeed you can say, "I trained hard and I did my best - I just wasn't fast enough", or "I was injured". But to be thrown out of the running half way through a cycle because your disability doesn't fit the new classification system is terrible. 

When I put my logical head on I truly get why this had to happen for the long term good of the sport. The new classification is evidence based and has been created through good science. An extensive research project analysed all the different paddling styles of kayakers and paracanoeists with motion sensor technology and EMG back up. The data put paddlers into clusters which became the new classifications. KL1, KL2 and KL3.  The system is is now unique to paracanoe, rather than adapted from para rowing, and it focuses much more on what athletes can do functionally in a boat, not by a relatively simplistic assessment of disability diagnosis,  so I can see how it will be much fairer moving forward. But although the old system wasn't perfect it was the system in place for this paralympic cycle and changing it mid cycle is going to hurt lots of people.
On a personal front, it looks like I am ok, but like the rest of the world I find out for sure in May. I then have to have another classification in August to confirm it. But some of my team mates already know they don't fit the new classification system, and I know that people I have raced against and deeply respect will also be having their hopes and dreams shattered.

I crave the feeling of gliding through the water in beautiful places.
I am coping because for me it was never just about Rio. I paddle because I love to paddle, not just to win medals. I love training and despite it being hard and at times painful I never take for granted that it gives me freedom to forget about my wonky leg. The governing bodies giving my disability a new name can't take that away. I crave the feeling of gliding through the water in my boat in beautiful places and I love learning how to paddle at my best. 

The name of my classification might change, but it will never stop my enjoyment of my sport. It would be a shame if for some reason out of my control I could't stay with the program, but the journey to Rio is an adventure, but it doesn't define me.

Paracanoe will definitely be stronger for the changes we are going through. But for now, in April 2015, the year before the Rio paralympics, everyone involved is hurting. My heart goes out to all athletes and support staff involved, because these changes right now simply suck.

1 comment:

  1. Love to know the reasoning behind a blanket ban on neurological conditions...!!!