From the Paralympics, to Hydrow

Leanne Yenush

My name is Sophia Warner and I'm a retired Paralympic track athlete. I want to share why I started rowing and how I found Hydrow. I’m excited to connect with you all and hope you join me as we climb the leaderboard! 

I started running at a very young age. My brother was a really good cross-country runner and I wanted to run with him. I was about 12. What I should mention at this point is that I have Cerebral Palsy, a group of disorders that affects the cerebral motor cortex and causes problems with movement, balance, and posture. I knew I was never going to be able to keep up with him, but caught the running bug anyway. I was hooked. When I was growing up in the 80s there was no such thing as disability sports in the way that they exist now, so it never occurred to me that competing competitively was an option. Fast forward to 2012 when I was lined up for the T35 (a Paralympic Games classification) 200m in the Olympic stadium, where I ran a lifetime best and came in 4th. There was a great deal in-between this, of course. I earned my first GB vest in 1998 and competed on and off until 2013. I travelled the world, won European titles, won world titles, and trained exceptionally hard to get to and stay at the top for so long.  Looking back, the thing that always stands out for me is how much I enjoyed every minute of it. I rarely hated a track session. I think it’s fair to say I felt like I was born to be an athlete and to run. 

Eight years on, I continued to run daily and train as I just didn’t know any different. It also helped my cerebral palsy. Then the pandemic hit. I think lockdown brought out two different types of people when it came to exercise. The first group made sourdough and enjoyed box sets (and there’s nothing wrong with that might I add!) and the other group, which I firmly sat in, completely overdid it and became obsessed with daily exercise. This was when I decided that the 5km I could comfortably run was going to become 16km. I am laughing as I write this...I had a goal to set the World Record for a T35 over 10 miles.

My cerebral palsy doesn’t really affect me...or rather - I don’t know any different. I was brought up as if I were  not disabled and if any allowances were made for me, I didn’t really notice them. I didn’t consider that my terrible gait and repetitive road running might cause the damage that it did. 18 months into the pandemic and I presented myself in A&E, unable to bear weight with a stress fracture in my hip due to all the above.

The devastating news came very soon after: running was no longer an option for me. This is the shortened version. I obviously tried to get different people to contradict this prognosis, but the outcome remained the same. The result of the wear and tear was irreversible and if I didn’t want to end up unable to walk, I needed to find something else to stay fit.

I went to see a top surgeon to discuss my options, but he didn’t offer anything that would keep me running. He simply said, “you should take up rowing. You love the outdoors. You love a full-body workout, and rowing works more of your muscles than the running that you have been doing.” I did some research, and here I am.

Three weeks after that conversation my Hydrow arrived. It was so easy to get started and took no time at all to set it up and to get going. However, I wanted to wait until I had completed 10 rows before commenting on my experience so far. I had never rowed before, and I am programmed to try and be the best at everything I do. This made it tough to be a beginner and not quite ‘rowing fit’ yet. It’s also been a hurdle for me mentally, but I’m making progress.

I am following the programme and am hugely conscious about getting my technique right as I  don’t want to cause another injury. I have rowed with all the athletes now (virtually of course) and can now comfortably row for 20 minutes. If you had asked me a few  years ago if I could enjoy something as much as running, I would have said no. However, two weeks into rowing and I can honestly say that I am enjoying it more. I love that it feels like I am not alone. The community is the best part and I love that I can get onto my Hydrow and all the thinking is done for me. From a health and fitness point of view, I can already see the transformation in my upper body and it’s giving me the full-body workout that I crave. On top of this, the most noticeable thing so far is that I don’t feel ‘jarred’ after my workout. I am looking forward to seeing what happens over the next few weeks. 

I am a long way from the top of the leaderboard, but I am climbing.