JEFFERSON AWARD: Man helps paralyzed rowers compete with his strength, attitude
The program Randy Mills began, and the inspiration he is to the Louisville Rowing Club's Adaptive Rowing Program.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's a calm, chilly March day on the Ohio River. In the shadows of downtown Louisville, competitive rower Jenny Smith is on the water training with her coach.
"I'm a little tight for the first time out," said Smith.
Rowing pits will versus water. The only motor on this boat is human strength. That's what makes Smith unlike most rowers in the world.
Jenny's a quadriplegic.
"Just being out of my chair was a really different experience," said Smith.
She and her coach Bob Hurley have their routine down to a science. He lifts her into the boat he modified, straps her in and she's off.
"When I was 16, I was outside tumbling. I had been a gymnast since I was three. When I was outside tumbling, my feet slipped out from underneath me and I sustained a spinal cord injury. That left me paralyzed from the chest down," said Smith.
After the accident, Smith didn't participate in sports for 10-years. But she didn't let that day define her future. Smith is one of more than 20 rowers in the Louisville Rowing Club's Adaptive Rowing program. It's a club for children and adults with disabilities. Some rowers compete, others just like the exercise.
Smith started rowing because of Randy Mills. He asked her to give it a shot and now she's been rowing for 11 years. Mills started volunteering for the club when it started in 1996. He's now the program's director.
From getting the boats ready to launch to helping new rowers, Mills encourages others with zeal and humility.
"For me personally, it's personal gratification to see others succeed," said Mills.
The Jefferson Award celebrates positive change and selfless public service. Randy dedicates countless hours to helping others and exemplifies everything the award represents.
As for Smith, she plans to row as long as her body allows her to.
"I certainly was not a great rower when I started. I will never be a great rower, but it's a great experience and a great feeling every morning," said Smith.
For more information about the Louisville Rowing Club's Adaptive Rowing program, CLICK HERE.
To nominate an individual or a group for the Jefferson Award, CLICK HERE.
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