By Paula Ebben


BOSTON (CBS) — Athletes are streaming into the Boston area for this weekend’s fall classic, the Head of the Charles Regatta.  And this year, for the first time, rowers with disabilities are competing at all levels.  Some of the teams are made up of all para athletes, others are a combination of para rowers and able bodied rowers.  But no matter who’s in the boat, the goal is the same.

“I lost my sight when I was 10 due to a brain tumor,” says Natalie McCarthy.  “I was born with club feet which means that my feet were almost all the way backwards and I had complete reconstructive surgery,” says Molly Moore.  “My leg was amputated due to bone cancer as a teenager,” says Johanna Beyer.

Natalie, Molly and Johanna are just 3 of about 30 para rowers competing in the Head of the Charles and were warming up today at Community Rowing.  You may not know they’re disabled as you watch them practice, and that’s the point.

“I would really like it to be, wow, there doesn’t have to be a barrier, wow, we can include anyone.  Just look at it as another boat in the race,” Natalie says.

Last year’s regatta featured exhibition races with para rowers.  This year it’s all inclusive.

“It just signals kind of an awareness,” says Jenny Sichel, a coxswain.  She and 4 American rowers brought home a silver medal from the paralympics in Rio.  She’ll reunite with her teammates for the regatta.

“They are some of the most fit athletes that I know and some of the most dedicated athletes that I know, and honestly, disability doesn’t come into play with it,” she says.

“The feeling of the boat in the water, it’s just a nice and relaxed feeling.  At the same time you can push yourself and go really hard,” Johanna says.

Of course they have to adapt, but being fully included is a step whose time has come.

“I think it’s really exciting and shows great direction for the para program,” Molly says.  “It sends a very powerful message of, where there’s a will there’s a way,” adds Natalie.

All the rowers are keeping their fingers crossed that the weather cooperates this weekend.

Paula Ebben

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