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Meet the Athlete – Sophie Harris

We love inviting people who are passionate about rowing to try FloatRower™, and in August we had a visit from adaptive rower, Sophie Harris.

Sophie discovered her passion for rowing in 2016, and her below-knee amputation didn’t stop her from pursuing it. She had joined Mayflower Offshore Rowing Club in 2016 as a complete beginner; and then, after many years of difficulty with Congenital Talipes Equinovarus (often referred to as Club-foot) in her left leg, she elected to have surgery to amputate in February 2017. In June of the same year she was back on the water, and by August she was identified as “talent” for Para Rowing.

Since then she’s self- and crowd-funded a specialist rowing prosthetic, developed and produced by Dorset Orthopaedic, which meant she could take her rowing to the next level – and in December 2018 she won bronze in the British Indoor Rowing Championships, her first ever competition, and has entered several regattas in the Senior Women categories. She’s spoken on behalf of Love Rowing, the foundation charity of British Rowing, which connects school, community and adaptive rowing; and in the difficult times of 2020, she took part in virtual championships, including the Head of the Dart 15k.

So with all that amazing background, experience and expertise, we were delighted to welcome her for a trial of FloatRower™ and put our Erg to the test, proving that we are the rowing machine for everyone, whatever their adaptive needs – we wanted to see if it measures up to her requirements as a rower, and as an adaptive athlete. Whilst Sophie was here, we also took the opportunity to find out about the incredible challenge that 2022 holds for her…

Row Around Great Britain 2022

Known as “The World’s Toughest Rowing Race”, the Row Around GB demands 2000 miles of continuous and unsupported rowing, and takes in the Channel, Celtic Sea, Irish Sea, the Western Isles, North Atlantic Ocean, North Sea and the Thames Estuary, finally finishing at Tower Bridge. There’s a record of 48 days for a crew of six men to row around Great Britain…and in June 2022, Sophie will be part of a crew of six women who hope to achieve the same feat, and set some new records along the way.

Setting off with the tide from Tower Bridge, on 5 June at 17:30, the crew of six will row three at a time for two hours on, and two hours off. It will take them around 10 hours just to reach the sea. They will be taking all supplies with them for the trip, including a water maker, and will have GPS for navigation guidance, and remote contact with land to find out about weather and sea conditions up ahead. It will be a gruelling but exhilarating adventure.

So how did they get together? “I signed up via the GB Row Challenge, and one of the options was the Race Around GB – and I decided to go for it. Our crew was formed by the organisers – we’re six women who didn’t know each other (and I’m the only amputee), aged between 22 and 52, and who coincidentally are all workers within the healthcare sector. We couldn’t have been better matched!

“We’ve started training, and met on 21 August to row together and take our mandatory swimming and treading water tests, plus a team row on the open water from Portsmouth to Chichester.

“Some of the records we could break are:

  • First all-female crew of six to complete the row

  • The oldest crew member (52)

  • The youngest crew member (22)

  • First amputee to complete the row

  • Fastest time for a crew of six – if we can beat 48 days!

“But honestly, I’m going to be delighted if we just complete it. It’s not called the Toughest Race in the World for nothing – we’ll be at the mercy of the weather, the tides and the currents and it will be a proper endurance test as well. Breaking records would just be the icing on a very hard-won cake!”

When Sophie Met FloatRower™…

Sophie came to try FloatRower™ in early August. Developing a machine that everyone can use is one of our founding principles, so we were delighted to have the opportunity to find out what an adaptive rower thinks of the experience...

“It’s an incredible piece of kit, and it’s hard to put into words how different it is from other machines out there – it’s just on another level altogether. It gives you an authentic, physical rowing experience, but it also draws your mind into what you’re doing: just as rowing on water does. You have to think about how you’re balancing, and how you’re pulling, to do it well. It’s easy to get complacent with your skills in rowing, but FloatRower™ shows you where there’s work to be done, and makes it enjoyable, too – competing against yourself and others to improve. And that’s another feature that sets it apart: the more time and performance you put into it, the more you get out in feedback, new personal achievements and the stats you build up over time. It’s ever-giving, and means you’re always getting useful, current, constructive training guidance from your electronic FloatRower™ coach!

“As far as the adaptive features go, I think the most powerful thing I can say about using FloatRower™ is that when I was using it, I didn’t have to think about using it with a prosthesis at all. The seat can be made static so it’s so much easier to get on and off than a conventional machine; the footplate was adjustable and comfortable, so I wasn’t at all worried about my prosthesis slipping off – and not having to give a second thought to the usual pitfalls of using a piece of equipment, was just brilliant. It’s all done very discreetly, too – it really is an inclusive rowing machine.

“The capabilities of FloatRower™ make it the ideal training machine for a team who are located in different places, too, like we are: you can compare each other’s data, which is really useful, but you can also get on your respective machines at the same time and complete a single row together, just as if you were in the same boat. You get performance data for each rower, see how that is affecting your performance as a crew, and figure out where adjustments need to be made. It’s training together, authentically, in conditions as close as possible to being out on the water, when you can’t be physically together. It’s just amazing!”

We love Sophie’s feedback, and we’re so proud to offer a machine that not only gives everyone the chance to experience authentic rowing, but also challenges them and their fellow rowers to improve with every workout.

We’re looking forward to working more closely with Sophie in the future and will be following her and the crew on their journey towards the starting line, and then all the way around GB and across the finish line. To keep up to date and watch them smash this event, follow our social media, where we'll share links to the best accounts to follow for all the latest news - and in the meantime, here's where to find out more:

Photos of the team training credit: Ben Lumley on behalf of Dorset Orthopaedic


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