April 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm EST | by Kevin Majoros
Once paralyzed, gay rower eyes London

Jason Beagle was paralyzed from the waist after a 1994 car accident. (Photo by M.V. Jantzen)

In 1994, Jason Beagle was in a car accident that left him with shattered vertebrae, paralyzed from the waist down. Spinal fusion and many months of therapy enabled Beagle to regain the use of his legs.

Eventually, he was able to walk without a cane but still had to deal with physical limitations and some paralysis. After moving to D.C. to pursue work as a director at the Shakespeare Theatre, Beagle decided to test his body and joined the LGBT sports team, Chesapeake and Potomac Softball (CAPS).

“I wanted to try a sport that I had played before the accident,” said Beagle. “It turned out that softball was a little bit beyond my limits.”

In 2007, he joined another LGBT sports team, the DC Strokes Rowing Club (DCSRC) and entered the “Learn to Row” program. Beagle ended up falling in love with the sport and went on to compete in rowing regattas with the team and eventually became president of the club.

With the encouragement of DCSRC Coach Patrick Johnson, Beagle joined Capital Adaptive which was a new program offered by the Capital Rowing Club. Capital Adaptive was formed to introduce the Washington area’s population of disabled military veterans and civilians to the sport of rowing.

“I wanted to see what it was like to row with other athletes with disabilities,” says Beagle.  “I was classified as an adaptive rower with functional use of his legs, trunk and arms (LTA).”

At the start of 2011, Beagle received an email from U.S. Rowing Coach, Karen Lewis, inviting him to a development camp at the Oklahoma City National High Performance Center (OKC-NHPC).  At the conclusion of the development camp, he was invited to the international selection camp for adaptive rowers to be contested in June 2011.

With only 10 weeks to train, and along with help from the DC Strokes and Capital Adaptive, Beagle adopted a high performance training program that consisted of four hours of rowing a day along with his 45-hour work week.

Beagle ended up losing his seat race at the selection camp and returned to D.C. disappointed, but committed to the sport of rowing. He continued racing with the DC Strokes and competed in several adaptive rowing sprint races.

In July 2011, Beagle received another invitation from Coach Karen Lewis. This one was an invitation to consider moving to Oklahoma City and applying for residency at the OKC-NHPC.  After several weeks of consideration and a trip to Oklahoma City for the U.S. Master’s National Championships, Beagle decided to take the plunge and his application for residency was accepted.

In December 2011, Beagle quit his job in D.C., packed up his car and moved to Oklahoma City. He is now in residence with more than 20 high performance rowers at the OKC-NHPC, which includes adaptive rowers and able-bodied rowers.

At the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, rowing was added to the sports lineup for the first time. As designated by FISA, the international rowing federation, there are three categories in Paralympic rowing. Arms only (A), Trunk and Arms (TA) and Legs, Trunk and Arms (LTA).

Beagle is now in heavy training for a chance to compete for the USA at the 2012 London Paralympics. A typical day for Beagle consists of 12 miles of rowing in the Oklahoma River, six hours of work at Chesapeake Energy and another 12 miles on the river in the evening.

Somewhere in the course of a week he also fits in ergometer training, weight training, biking, light running and time in the indoor high propulsion rowing tank.

All the hard training has given Beagle some incredible results. “My time for 1,000 meters has improved by 35 seconds,” says Beagle. “That currently ranks me second in the United States in the LTA category.”

The selection camp for the 2012 London Paralympics will be contested in Charlottesville, Va., beginning on May 25 on the Rivanna River. The United States prequalified a boat for London in the LTA category, which is a four-person mixed sweep boat (4+) at the 2011 World Championships in Bled, Slovenia.

During the course of the two-week selection camp, four men and four women will be selected to compete in seat racing. Over the course of several days, the eight rowers will rotate spots in the four-person sweep boat looking for the combination that will result in the fastest time. The final selection will consist of the fastest two men and two women.

Getting into the mindset of an elite athlete has been an interesting challenge for Beagle.  “Sometimes, because of my theater background, I feel like I am training for opening night of a play,” he says.  “I have never pushed my body this hard and am looking forward to what challenges lie ahead.”

Regardless of the outcome in Charlottesville next month, Beagle will remain at the OKC-NHPC through the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. “I am enjoying it in Oklahoma City,” says Beagle. “The LGBT community here is quite social and the various cliques seem to be very accepting of each other.”

Everyone here in D.C. will be rooting for Jason as he rows his way to London for a shot at the gold medal.

Information on local rowing is at dcstrokes.org and capitalrowing.org. Information on U.S. Rowing is at okc-nhpc.org.

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