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The convincing win by Australia’s PR3 mixed double scull duo Nikki Ayers and Jed Altschwager at the World Rowing Cup event in Poland last week was achieved under the stress of a family illness. 

Altschwager’s youngest child, five-year-old Aspen was hospitalised with pneumonia and the 2023 World Rowing Para Crew of the Year nearly abandoned its last international regatta before the Paris Paralympics.  

“We were away for three weeks, two weeks in Italy in a solid training camp leading into Poland,” Altschwager said.  

“But there were things going on at home which made things pretty tricky. My daughter spent a couple of nights in hospital with a collapsed lung. For a couple of days there I was going to come home, I’d lined up flights but as she started to get a little better, we made the decision to stay. 

“We really needed to compete because it was all the countries that are probably going to be in the A Final in Paris. We were able to race them and get a good result.” 

The doubles crew won gold ahead of Great Britain and Germany. It was their first race at an international regatta since they won at the World Championships in Serbia last year.  

Three-time Paralympic silver medallist in the men’s single scull, Erik Horrie, captured the bronze medal in his event and, in their international debut, the crew of Susannah Lutze, Al Viney, Tobiah Goffsassen, Tom Birtwhistle and Hannah Cowap (coxswain) finished fifth in a tough and experienced field in the PR3 mixed coxed four. 

The Para-rowing team for the Paris Games will be named by Paralympics Australia in Canberra on July 1. 

There are high hopes especially for the PR3 mixed double scull, which is a new Paralympic event that has been dominated by the Australians. However, Altschwager cautioned that the field was evening out.  

“With any new event countries get better quite quickly and figure it out,” he said.  

“We got the jump on everyone last year and got some good results. This year it’s changed; the US weren’t as quick, GB has improved, Germany’s become a lot quicker… We still came away with nearly a five-second margin, which is a couple of boat lengths. We’ve definitely moved on, we’re going quicker, but others have as well. 

“That said, we’re pretty confident still that we’re heading in the right direction.” 

Ayers and Altshwager will spend the next seven weeks training locally before – pending selection to the Australian Paralympic Team – they enter a three-week team camp at the AIS’s European Training Centre in Italy and then head to Paris.

By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia

Published: 21 June 2024