Oliver James – A British Paralympian

Oliver “Ollie” James started coxing at the University of Warwick Boat Club in 2009 and insists that he was the novice cox who crashed every single day. In order to improve, he spent the university holidays travelling around to work with different rowers and coaches, spending time at Lancaster University, Southampton University and Broxbourne Rowing Club. If Ollie had not pursued these opportunities outside of university, he would never have ended up representing his country in adaptive international events and at the Paralympics. It was on one of these training camp visits, with Southampton University in January 2012, that he was encouraged to apply to join Leander Club by the novice women’s coach, Toby Johnson. 

Ollie moved to Henley-on-Thames to cox at Leander Club in August 2012. The intensity of the training and lifestyle was a massive step up from anything in his previous rowing background. Throughout the first season he worked very closely with Brian Armstrong and Chris Collerton, shadowing their coaching on the water and in the gym whilst trying to pick up on all the bits and pieces that made Leander the place to be in the rowing world. Although a small sweep squad at Leander that year limited his time in the driving seat, he remembers his first outing in an VIII at Leander with a group of athletes who he described as ‘having a sizeable collection of jewellery’. With recent Olympians from London 2012 on board, he recalls how his first call was to tell whoever was sitting in the six seat that they were far too late. After some laughter from the crew, Ollie asked what he had done wrong. The reply came back – ‘Don’t hold back, just go for the Olympic gold medallist’. The following season, a larger squad at  Leander Club meant Ollie had a chance to get into the coxing seat again.  It also meant that he could start applying the lessons from the previous year to his coxing and also into some racing. 

During his first season at Leander, Ollie raced internationally with the Paralympic team for the first time and has never looked back. Since then, he has been earning a ‘sizeable jewellery collection’ of his own as he has raced with the team for the past three years. He coxed his Paralympic crew to victory in both the Rowing World Cup and the World Championships in 2013, 2014 and 2015. His crew has also won five gold medals over the past three years at Gavirate Adaptive Regatta which is an international event for adaptive crews. Just like all the GB rowers, he is released to cox his home club at the tideway heads. Representing Leander in the 2014/2015 season, he won IM2.coxed fours at fours head, elite club at women’s head, and the lightweight pennant at men’s head. 

Ollie, of course, wants to win Gold at the Paralympics. He says that having picked up the gold medal at every World Championship in this Paralympiad, it would feel like ‘a job half done’ to return from Rio without a gold medal. Upon being asked whether anything was different about rowing in the LTA.4+ compared to able-bodied boats, he said ‘No, it’s the same sport, the same processes and we all have the same goal, to make the boat go as fast as possible.’

Tom Morgan

Previous editor of Row360, publisher of Junior Rowing News, freelance writer for the Daily Telegraph, the Huffington Post, Vital Football and others. Student at the University of Southampton.

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