BBC Sport paralympics2008

Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Aggar's path to success

by Elizabeth Hudson

Paralympic hopeful Tom Aggar. Pic: Peter Spurrier/GB Rowing
Aggar celebrates his world gold medal win in Munich earlier this year
Tom Aggar's journey from rugby player to Paralympic rowing hopeful has been the most difficult journey that the 22-year-old has ever had to make.

Keeping fit was always an important part of the life of the Londoner, who played with the Saracens youth development squad and for his university's 1st XV.

But his world was transformed completely in 2005 when he was left paralysed after suffering a serious spinal injury in an accident.

As part of his rehabilitation, Aggar took up rowing and competed at the 2006 National Indoor Championships using the FES (functional electrical stimulation) rowing machine, where paralysed muscles are made to contract by applying electrical pulses through electrodes.

After making a successful switch to the water last winter, the University of Warwick graduate is now a world champion and is hoping to make his Paralympic debut in Beijing next year where adaptive rowing will be making its first appearance.

"Getting over the accident was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, both mentally and physically," he told BBC Sport.

"At first it was a massive shock and I can't put words to how I felt at the time. You go from being in a good physical state to being completely dependent on other people.

"Before the accident I had only used the rowing machine in the gym as part of my warm-up but I met someone through my spinal unit who was pioneering the FES rowing machine.

"Everything now is geared towards Beijing"

Rower Tom Aggar

"I really got into it and it helped me get my fitness back. But having something to focus on really helped my rehab.

"It showed me that I could be competitive again but although starting adaptive rowing and getting onto the water was difficult at first and very tough physically, I really enjoyed it.

"I had done a lot of weight training before my accident so I had a lot of upper body strength which helped me enormously. I am quite tall so I have a long reach as well, which is a benefit.

"It was so different from the rowing machine because you have to balance and deal with two oars and when I started I couldn't keep the boat straight."

Aggar dedicated much of his time last winter to getting fit for the World Championship selection trials and the hard work on land and on the water paid off with a place in the Great Britain squad for the World Championships in Munich.

Coming to the championships as a virtual unknown, Aggar announced his arrival on the world stage with comprehensive victories in both the heats and semi-finals.

He went on to set the pace in the final and beat two-time world champion Dominic Monypenny from Australia by a second and a half to claim gold.

"I was probably most nervous leading up to the heats because I had only competed in two official races as well as the time trials and testing before Germany," he admitted.

Paralympic hopeful Tom Aggar. Pic: Peter Spurrier/GB Rowing
Aggar is now targetting gold at next year's Beijing Paralympics

"But I learnt something from every race and although I lost a bit of boat speed in the final, I had a feeling of joy and relief at the same time when I found out I had won the world title.

"In a way it was good that I came into the championships as an unknown so there was less pressure on me but I know things will be different next year.

"Everything now is geared towards Beijing and I have to keep building on my fitness and strength as well getting mentally prepared for racing.

"Because I haven't raced a lot I still find it difficult to pace the race most efficiently and gauge how I should be feeling at certain times in the race.

"I'm very excited about 2008 but am not getting myself too worked up. I'll just carry on trainng as hard as I can and hopefully it will pay off."

Tom Aggar is among the British athletes who BBC Sport will be following during the countdown to the 2008 Beijing Games.

see also
Adaptive rowers clinch two medals
01 Sep 07 |  Disability sport
GB crews to defend world crowns
23 Aug 07 |  Disability sport

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