Oar-some Sophie’s Paralympic rowing quest

A unique prosthetic leg made by Dorset Orthopaedic is helping a Plymouth woman on her quest to become a Paralympic star.

Sophie Harris, 33, is part of a crop of talented para-rowers aiming for selection in the Team GB squad for Tokyo 2020, and will find out in November if she’s made it through to the next stage.

She’s training six days a week with her GB coach Ella Willott and at her main club, Dart Totnes Amateur Rowing Club with her coach, Simon Gifford-Mead. On top of this, she also does coastal rowing with her first club, Mayflower Offshore Rowing Club.

While her initial prosthesis was adequate for less competitive rowing, she was told at a rowing talent camp she would need a different prosthesis going forward if she wanted to continue. She spoke to Dorset Orthopaedic’s experts, who worked with Sophie to create a leg to meet the requirements set out by British Rowing.

The result of their research and expertise is a limb which has extra flexion in the foot, allowing her to bring her knees right to her chest during the rowing motion, improving her performance and overall comfort in the boat.

She said: “The leg is specifically built to help me with my rowing — I can’t walk on it properly, for example. But it’s perfect for me and has helped me so much in the last year. It means I can train at the level I need to achieve my goals.”

Sophie lost her left leg below the knee just 18 months ago through elective surgery. Born with congenital talipes equinovarus, or club foot as it is more widely known, Sophie underwent multiple surgeries to help her walk independently for several years before she had an ankle fusion as a final option. When the fusion only partly worked, Sophie decided it was time to amputate.

“I’d never rowed before but I’d always wanted to try it but never had the time,” she said. “And with the amputation on the horizon, I needed an aim. I made enquiries on how to get into the sport before my amputation and joined Mayflower, who were brilliant and so accommodating. They saw me through the whole journey really.

“Overall, it’s been a real whirlwind, from signing on the dotted line for my amputation in December 2016 to being in the position I’m in now. I’m working hard — it’s intensive but I hope with all the training and my rowing leg it’ll be worth it!”

Matt Hughes, Clinical Services Development Director, said: “We were delighted to be able to help Sophie create this unique rowing leg. It’s not only helped her continue a sport she discovers she loves but it’s hopefully going to help her towards Paralympic selection, and we wish her luck at her selection camp later this year.”

Sophie’s prosthetist, Kevin Shaw added: “Creating a rowing leg for Sophie was a challenge for us as we’d never built something like this before, but we’re delighted with the outcome and it’s great to see Sophie putting it to such good use. We’re all rooting for her as she continues her Paralympic quest.”