PA24 Rowing Team selected at a special ceremony in Canberra.

Australia’s rowing team for Paris 2024 features the nation’s most decorated Paralympic rower, a crew that will arrive as gold medal favourites and a debutant who described her past 18 months as a whirlwind.

NSW Institute of Sport (NSWIS) athletes Hannah Cowap and Thomas Birthwhistle are among a squad of eight athletes who were announced by Paralympics Australia to compete in three qualified boats at the Paralympic regatta at Vaires-sur-Marne Nautical Stadium between August 30 and September 1.

The rowing team announcement was made by Australian Paralympic Team Chef de Mission Kate McLoughlin at a ceremony at the National Training Centre in Canberra, also attended by Paralympics Australia President Alison Creagh, Rowing Australia representatives and friends, family and support networks of the newest members of the Australian Paralympic Team.

NSWIS alumni Erik Horrie is the squad’s elder statesman. The three-time silver medallist in the PR1 single scull has been among the world leaders in his event for over a decade and will compete at his fourth Paralympic Games.

“I love my silver medals,” he said. “But, like all six of the athletes who’ll be lined up for the final, we’ll all be going for that gold medal. The level of competition in my class has certainly gone up and any athlete on the day could win the race. It’s going to be a great battle and I’m looking forward to it.”

Horrie, who acquired paraplegia in a vehicle accident in 2001, explained his longevity in elite rowing with: “I love the sensation of really challenging myself. I hate when someone says I can’t do something.

“Sport, in general, is an important part of life and keeping fit, for me, is a massive thing mentally as well, just keeping in a good headspace.

“It’s made me a better person since the accident, it certainly changed my life and also changed things for my family.”

Susannah Lutze, a member of the PR3 mixed coxed four, who helped qualify the boat last year and will make her Paralympic debut, said she felt empowered by rowing.

“I graduated Year 12 in 2022 and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind 18 months since then. This is just my second year in the team, in the boat, so things have happened quickly.”

Lutze’s sport-loving parents encouraged her to try numerous sports as she grew up with a congenital limb deficiency. However, she says, “I ended up having so many issues with knee pain, back pain, hip pain … I moved schools in Year 10 and the school I started at had rowing so I tried that and I just loved it, loved everything about it.

“I love being part of a team. I love the early mornings, the commitment. It’s really empowering.”

Lutze is particularly eager for the Paralympics in Paris.

“It just feels like such a quintessential Games, so iconic,” she said. “To be around all this amazing history and culture, while there’s this great sporting event going on, it’s really exciting.”

Containing excitement seems more the challenge for the world champion PR3 mixed double scull crew of Nikki Ayers and Jed Altschwager, who enter the Paralympic regatta as favourites.

“It’s something I’m trying not to think about too much,” said Ayers, who was part of the mixed coxed four that finished fourth at Tokyo 2020 before teaming up with her rowing friend Altschwager after the mixed double was included in the Games program for Paris.

“Jed and I just trust in ourselves and the processes that allow us to get the job done. We want to get to the start line in Paris knowing we’ve done everything we can to be as prepared as possible. If we do it right we believe we’ll be the first crew across the line.”

Rowing was introduced as a Paralympic sport in 2008. Australia is yet to win a gold medal. Ayers said: “(Winning gold) it would be amazing to show people that you can have a disability and achieve what you want to achieve.

“For me, being part of the Rainbow community, being female, being disabled and being visible just shows people that you can be your authentic self and achieve your goals.

“It’s been such a positive experience this time. I love turning up every day, getting in the boat and rowing with one of my good mates, having coaching and support staff who really value you. I’m really enjoying the journey.”

McLoughlin said the rowing team had an opportunity to create history.

“This is a squad full of talent and potential,” the Chef de Mission said.

“Results over the past year have been amazing and we know there is a great feeling within and around the team.

“I’d like to thank and congratulate Rowing Australia, particularly Performance Director Paul Thompson, for developing a culture of excellence that has our athletes well placed to perform at their very best against the rest of the world at the Paris Paralympics.”

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