Still basking in the warmth of Saturday’s successful opening ceremony, 1,700 participating rowers from dozens of countries got set for Day 1 of racing at the 2017 World Rowing Championships on Sunday.
The crowd for Sunday’s first of eight actual days of rowing competition at Nathan Benderson Park was estimated at 5,000, a drop from 15,000 from Saturday’s opening ceremonies, according to Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
But the cheering was loud and flags were flying from the stands during the first rowing championships held in the USA since 1994 in Indianapolis. Fans of Great Britain and USA were especially vocal.
Fans from Manatee County were pulling for the USA, but some said they were also searching for an international athlete with an interesting story to root for throughout the coming week until the event ends on Sunday, Oct. 1.
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If that’s the case, Erik “Egg” Horrie of Australia offers himself up for adoption by Manatee County rowing fans.
How could fans not be drawn to an athlete with the nickname, “Egg?”
“He’s allergic to eggs,” said Horrie’s coach, Jason Baker, when asked how the 37-year-old Horrie got the nickname.
That tells you everything you need to know about the Aussie sense of humor.
But Horrie can give it right back.
“He’s a bit of a joker,” Lucy Benjamin, a spokeswoman for Team Australia, said of Horrie Sunday. “But I would also say he is very focused. He is very passionate. He loves his family a lot. He’s got two girls and a boy, and his wife and kids are coming to watch him race for the first time. They’ve never seen him race internationally before.”
Horrie is currently the defending world champion in PR1, men’s single scull. In rowing language, PR 1 is equivalent to what used to be called “arms and shoulders.”
It means that Horrie, who has competed for Australia since 2011, is strapped in his scull at the upper chest level to only allow him allow shoulder and arm movements. His seat is fixed. He is competing against athletes with similar disabilities.
Horrie has had paraplegia since a head on car crash in 2001 when he was 21 left him without feeling from his belly button down.
The sculls used in PR1 are slightly wider and have pontoons on the sides to give them balance.
PR1 rowers now travel 2,000 meters, an increase over the 1,000 meters they previously raced.
Rowing is a ‘whole different world’
For a man who is in a wheelchair most of the time, getting out on the water is a “whole different world,” Horrie said Sunday.
“The fact of just being out there on the water has taken me out of my wheelchair,” Horrie said. “The physical aspect of rowing is something I love. It’s a sensation you can’t really put into words until you sit in a boat and feel the movement and feel the way the boat feels when you start to accelerate.”
Horrie started out doing wheelchair basketball. But when someone suggested rowing, he thought, “How hard can it be?”
He discovered that rowing is mentally and physically the hardest thing he has ever done. And he loves that it is.
“At the moment, I am the current defending world champion in PR1,” Horrie added. “Last year, I was second at the Paralympic Games. So, I guess I am in the top two in the world. So, as far as my achievements in rowing, it’s certainly unbelievable, but I take nothing for granted.”
For Manatee rowing fans who wish to adopt him, Horrie’s first race is set for 10:50 a.m. Tuesday.
“I will be in Heat 3, Lane 1 against four other challengers,” Horrie added.