From the blind veterans of WW1 to the first Paralympic gold medal: The inspirational story of adaptive rowing charted over nearly 100 years

  • New exhibition Freedom of the River charts the inspirational history of adaptive rowing and its rise in global popularity
  • See how specialist equipment and state of the art technology has helped to bring adaptive rowing to those with a range of disabilities, removing the physical barriers to participation
  • Try the incredible functional electrical stimulation (FES) rowing machine, and experience the revolutionary electrical stimulation that has allowed disabled athletes to triumph over spinal injuries to win Paralympic gold medals
  • Freedom of the River runs from 16 March to 07 July 2013 at the River & Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames
  • For images please email

Freedom of the River, a new exhibition at the River & Rowing Museum - one of the UK’s leading sporting Museums - charts the compelling history of adaptive rowing. From seeing blind First World War soldiers racing against the students of Worcester College for the Blind in 1918 to Team GB triumphing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the exhibition presents an inspirational insight into how technology has enabled those with a range of disabilities to compete on an international scale, removing the physical barriers to participation.

Created in association with the official governing body for the sport, British Rowing, the exhibition

celebrates adaptive rowing’s global rise in popularity through an intricate series of objects, technology and storyboards. State of the art FES rowing ergos, which provide muscle stimulation to paralysed athletes, have opened up ever-growing opportunities to those with disabilities and are now on show for the public to try.  The many objects on display tell the stories of those who have triumphed over pain and adversity through both technological advances and human spirit. The exhibition explores the journey that has led to expeditions across both the Indian and Atlantic oceans as well as countless Paralympic gold medals.

Freedom of the River also provides a unique insight into the incredible number of rowing clubs and organisations across the UK that enable people with a wide range of physical and mental disabilities to take part in indoor and outdoor rowing with the aid of equipment adapted to their needs and the support of coaches and volunteers.

Highlights include:

  • The stories of various Paralympic and inspirational rowers including Tom Aggar and world record holder Stuart Boreham
  • Audio contributions from leading adaptive rowing figures of their training experiences such as Paralympians Naomi Riches and Helene Raynsford and Paralympic trainer, Simon Goodey
  • A functional electrical stimulation (FES) rowing machine which allows athletes whose legs are paralysed by spinal cord injury to row again
  • A prosthetic leg that was used by Vickie Hansford, one of Britain’s foremost Paralympians, when she won bronze at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing
  • A broken seat and oar used by Angela Madsen, the first paraplegic woman to row across both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans
  • Banners and uniforms which featured in the 2012 Paralympic Games at Eton Dorney

Gold medal winning Paralympian and endorsee of the exhibition, Naomi Riches, said:

'With the success of the Paralympic Games last summer, the public interest in Disabled sport has really grown. It is fantastic that the River and Rowing museum are creating this exhibition, it will educate people about where Paralympic rowing has come from, it is a pretty good story after all.  I feel honoured to be involved.'

Simon Goodey, Director of Rowing at the London Regatta Centre and pioneer for adaptive rowing, who has been working closely alongside the exhibition said:

“This exhibition pulls together a vast collection of technological developments that have encouraged and inspired those with varying disabilities to overcome physical challenges. It also documents a process which has been going on for nearly a hundred years and has now led to the highest levels of sporting and human achievement, exemplified in gold medals.”

Suzie Tilbury, the curator of the exhibition at The River and Rowing Museum, said:

“This is an exciting exhibition which gives people the chance to see things that are usually locked away in training facilities, and what’s more, the public can have a first hand experience of an FES rowing machine. We believe that this exhibition provides the public with an opportunity to see how incredible these athletes really are, and in an experiential way, which in itself is unique.”

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Note for editors:

Press Contacts

Jack Hickmott and George Eddy

T: 0207 221 7883
E: /

Catherine Yoxall, River & Rowing Museum
T: 01491 415 642

River & Rowing Museum 

River & Rowing Museum (, an independent charity, is one of the UK’s leading regional and sporting Museums, attracting over 115,000 visitors a year. The Museum also has a purpose built education centre visited by over 20,000 children and adults a year. The Museum provides superb value for money. Tickets are £8.50 for adults and £6.50 for children and provide free access for one year. The Museum celebrates four themes explored through a wide variety of exhibitions and events across four galleries and special exhibitions:

  • The past, present and future of the River Thames
  • The historic riverside community of Henley on Thames
  • The international sport of rowing
  • The Wind in the Willows

Since opening in August 1998 the Museum has received numerous awards including the National Heritage/NPI Museum of the Year award, the Sandford Award For Heritage Education and the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge.

Location, opening and ticket information

  • River & Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire, RG9 1BF. Tel. 01491 415600.
  • The Museum, terrace café and shop are open every day from 10am - 5.30pm in summer and 10am - 5pm in the winter
  • Tickets give FREE admission for a whole year!
  • Admission is just £8.50 for adults, £6.50 for children aged four and over, FREE for children aged three and under and £6.50 for senior citizens and concessions
  • Free parking for visitors
  • There is a 50% discount on admission for members of the British Armed Forces and members of British Rowing.
  • FREE admission for members of the Art Fund.

River & Rowing Museum is part of the Thames Valley Museums Group (TVMG) Family Friendly initiative - a scheme that brings together 70 Museums across Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, to promote their popular appeal to the whole family.

River & Rowing Museum is a proud signatory to the Kids in Museums Manifesto and was longlisted for the Family Friendly Museum of the Year Award in 2011.