Donohoe Coaches Team USA Para-Rowing


For the second straight year, Rhode Island women’s rowing head coach Shelagh Donohoe gained international experience as part of the U.S. National Team.

Donohoe and Ellen Minzner coached Team USA’s 2015 World Para-Rowing LTA 4+ team at the World Championships on Lake Aiguebelette in France in early September. The LTA stands for legs, trunks and arms and the athletes in the competition have the ability to use these sections of their body. As para-athletes, they have certain physical disabilities and visual impairments that create challenges.

A year ago, Donohoe coached the U.S. Para-Rowing LTA mixed double boat at the 2014 World Championships in Amsterdam.

“I wanted to stay involved,” Donohoe said of coaching with Team USA again. “It has made me a smarter coach and taught me to be more flexible in the approaches I take in communicating with athletes.”

Over the summer, Donohoe coached four rowers and a coxswain three days a week on the Charles River in Boston. It was a mixed team, with two men and two women, each with different physical limitations.

Ricky Vandergrift, an 18-year-old high school student from Bethel, Ohio, was born without a fibula in his left leg, had his leg amputated below the knee at 18 months old and now has a prosthetic leg. Zachary Burns, another 18-year-old high school student from Ann Arbor, Mich. was born with a club foot on his left leg that restricts his ankle flexibility. Dani Hansen, a 21-year-old from Patterson, Calif., who rows for the University of Washington, has Erb’s Palsy, a condition that leads to paralysis in her arm. The fourth rower was Jaclyn Smith, a 22-year-old from Williston, N.Y., who rowed for Sacred Heart. She has a condition called ocular albinism. She is legally blind and her eyes are sensitive to light.

“When coaching adaptive rowing, it forces you to think outside the box,” Donohoe said. “These are all tremendous athletes, but they each face different challenges. Just the fact that it’s a mixed boat with men and women forces us to take a different look at how to best set them up, seat-wise.”

For Donohoe, going to Aiguebelette also was a chance to visit a piece of her past. She and her team spent a month on the Lake while training for the 1992 Barcelona Games, where Donohoe won a silver medal for the United States.