Tom Aggar - the unstoppable rowing machine

  • Tom Aggar - the unstoppable rowing machine
    Tom Aggar

In the competitive environs of Great Britain's men's rowing teams, the holder of the highest bench-press score is revered like a London 2012 gold medallist.

The current holder of that accolade can lift 157kg - almost double his body's weight - or, if you still do your measurements in stone, the best part of a quarry. 

He isn’t one of the five reigning Olympic champions from Beijing who are still in the GB squad nor one the massive youngsters who have joined the ranks since 2008.

He is Tom Aggar, Paralympic champion in the arms-and-shoulders single scull. As his coach Tom Dyson said: "That’s a massive score for anyone, especially when you consider it’s done without any driving through the hips."

But that isn’t the only outstanding fact about Aggar. He also has never been beaten in international competition. 

I’m motivated by faster times, lifting bigger weights and pulling better scores

Not once, not even his first season in 2007, through Paralympic gold in Beijing in 2008 at the first Games in which rowing featured, and World Championships in each of the three years since.

"Last year was the closest race I’ve had to the finish line,” he said of his victory by two seconds over Russia’s Alexey Chuvashev for the world title in Slovenia.

"In Beijing it was really tight up until about the last 250m. Two seconds over a five-minute race isn’t a lot but hopefully I’ll be able to at least keep that, if not extend it, this year."

One of the toughest battles Aggar has is within the British team. He beat training partner Andy Houghton by six seconds at the national trials on 11 March but the two regularly push each other to greater levels.

Aggar broke his specially constructed seat during the warm-up for that event and his coach admits it is a regular problem, such is the force he puts through the welded frame.

"I’m motivated by producing fast times, lifting bigger weights in the gym and pulling better scores on the machines," said Aggar.

"Hopefully that will stand me in good stead. I’ve got big aspirations."

Aggar is paraplegic. He broke his back and was paralysed from the waist down after an accident during a student party that saw him fall over a wall, down 12 foot into a concrete backyard.

Formerly a rugby player with the Saracens youth team, he tried rowing while he was going through rehab at Stanmore hospital in north London, and his scores on the rowing machine brought the attention of the GB coaches.

"I thought I was fit when I joined the team but training two or three times a day was completely alien. Now it’s par for the course week-in, week-out," he said.

"It’s full-on, mirrored to what the Olympic guys go through. It’s a professional, focused set-up."

I’ve had a good string of results and people are expecting good things 

There is another challenge waiting, though, when the London 2012 Paralympic regatta takes place almost on Aggar’s doorstep, at Dorney Lake near Windsor.

At Beijing, he admitted, he went in "under the radar".

Those people include an entourage of family and friends who regularly follow him around the world to cheer from the stands, including wife Vicki, a Paralympic rowing bronze medallist in Beijing, who he married late last year.

But the home crowd has its positives and Aggar added: "There’s going to be so many people there supporting British athletes, and people I know personally supporting me so it will make a big difference."

Interview by Martin Gough

- For all your latest news ahead of the 2012 Paralympics, follow @C4Paralympics on Twitter and like the C4Paralympics Facebook page  


Competition for gold

  • Tom Aggar fears Russia’s Alexey Chuvashev, the world silver medallist last year, more than any other rival.

    "He’s been rising through the ranks over the last few years,” he says of the Russian. “He’s a big, strong guy, ex-military.

    "Last year he looked absolutely gutted with silver so I know he’s going to be hungry.

    "The Aussie and French teams have got a good set-up so everyone there is going to be top of their game."

  • Coach Tom Dyson says  he doesn’t have to work very hard to keep Aggar at his best. 

    "Partly what drives him is love for the sport. He’s fallen in love with rowing, enjoys the training and that makes it very easy," he said. 

    "He never wants to be beaten, quite simply. He’s got that feeling of always wanting to be first and you can see that in his training."