As a senior in high school, Blake Haxton fell ill. Within a couple of days his condition deteriorated drastically and he was diagnosed with Necrotizing Fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease. In his incredible and odds-defying battle, Haxton had both legs amputated. But he recovered, finished high school and went to college. Although he temporarily hung up his oars, Haxton never went too far from the rowing club, acting as a coach during his undergraduate years.
After graduating, Haxton decided it was time to ‘be an adult’ and start exercising again.
“I bought the adaptive seat for the Concept2 from Wintech in 2013. It was purely driven by the need to work out, to be an adult,” says Haxton. But the transition to arms and shoulders rowing was not as smooth as he might have wanted.
“I just hated it,” Haxton laughs.
He had to re-learn how to row, without his legs. “I really had to break the muscle memory of how a rowing stroke is supposed to feel and that just drove me nuts for a while. Eventually I got over it and adjusted. It was about accepting that this is an almost entirely different sport, instead of just an approximation of able-bodied rowing.”
What started as a ‘bit of exercise’ to stay healthy quickly turned into much more. Haxton’s scores on the erg improved rapidly and he realized that he just might have a shot at the Paralympic team.
“Pretty quickly I got to the time standards for the para team and thought, well if I can compete for the United States that's a different thing,” Haxton says.
“I went to the C.R.A.S.H. B’s and won in 2014, and that’s what really got the ball rolling,” he explains. “The high-performance director, Tom Darling, was there and said that I should try out, that they would support me. That was unreal. So I got into the single, got geared up and ready to go and I’ve been on the team since.”
Haxton finished fourth at the 2014 World Rowing Championships and has made the World Championship team ever since. He also qualified for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where he finished fourth.
But Haxton credits his time on the Concept2 as launching him back into his rowing career.
“If I hadn't had the numbers on the erg, on the Concept2, I wouldn't have tried the boat,” he says. “I believe that if you have the erg score you still might not make it, but if you don't have the erg score then your chances really are not very high.”
Almost eight years later, Haxton is preparing for his second Paralympic Games and he has taken on a new challenge. He will race in both rowing and canoeing, competing over the full two weeks of the Paralympic Games.
“I picked up the canoe a couple years ago and that's drawn better than I expected. So it's still exciting. If everything goes right in the canoe, I probably have a shot at a medal,” Haxton says. He also adds, “but even if everything goes right in the single, I probably don't.”
Haxton currently trains twice a day, six days a week in his efforts to try for a medal in Tokyo. While he has shifted his training slightly to accommodate the sprint discipline in canoeing, Haxton still spends quite a few training hours on the Concept2.
“I really live on my Concept2 honestly, all winter long, all spring, all fall,” he says. “Getting on the water is complicated, even though I am rowing a single. I always need help moving the boat, I always have to spend time on it, so that can become kind of a big ask over time.”
Instead he dedicates his training time to the convenience of the Concept2. And he’s developed some ways to keep himself motivated through long steady-state pieces.
“I have podcasts and TV,” he says, before adding, “I trade stock and one of the things is you listen to an hour-long earnings call with people running the company. I'll find those and if it's not real urgent, I'll just record it, wait and play it on the erg and there you go, that's 60 minutes of steady state, where I am kind of killing two birds.”
Because for Haxton, it’s not necessarily talent that makes a good rower.
“To be good at rowing, you don't have to be some athletic breed, or incredibly talented. You just have to be bored and uncomfortable for long periods of time. And if you can win that, you're probably going to be pretty good.”
Be sure to follow Blake Haxton’s journey through the Paralympic Games from August 24, 2021 to September 5, 2021.