When Birgit Skarstein is not training for cross-country skiing, she is rowing.
The dual-sport machine competed at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, and now the reigning rowing world champion has turned her focus to the Summer Paralympics in 2020.
The prospect of winning gold at Tokyo 2020 look positive. She has won both her World Cups in 2019, and her winning performance at the 2018 Worlds in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, remains a World Best Time (10:13.630) in the PR1 women's single sculls (PR1 W1x).
She has come a long way since just missing the podium at the Rio 2016 Games. But that made the Norwegian hungrier for gold. She bounced back to win gold at the 2017 World Championships and is looking to make it three in a row this year in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria; she has also won every World Cup race since Rio 2016.
Skarstein injured her left leg while jumping into a lake in 2010. During treatment, she received an epidural injection in her back that accidentally injured the spinal cord, paralysing her from the waist down.
She picked up rowing in 2012 and competed in her first major regatta at the 2013 World Cup in Varese, Italy.
Skarstein studied political science at the University of Oslo and is a member of the International Paralympic Committee’s Athletes’ Council.
Further personal information
Sport specific information
She sustained three stress fractures to her ribs in the 2015 rowing season, and required four months to recover. (aftenposten.no, 22 Jul 2016)
She was named flag bearer for Norway at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang. (pyeongchang2018.com, 09 Mar 2018)
She received the 2016 Tronder Award, which recognises outstanding achievement in Trondelag, Norway. (adressa.no, 06 Jan 2017)
She has competed in both Para rowing and Para cross-country skiing at international level. She began Para cross-country skiing in 2009 at age 20 in Beitostolen, Norway, and says combining both sports has been beneficial for her athleticism. "Rowing is my number one priority. I train and compete in skiing to become a better rower and find this to be a great combination. Changing around sports and movements makes me able to train better, to train more, and to lower the risk of injuries. Rowing does make me a better skier as it gives me strength and endurance as well as a competitive mindset. Skiing gives me the hours and hours I need as base training. Changing environments and movements keeps me sharp and hungry, and I can pick up the best parts from both environments." (worldrowing.com, 01 Nov 2019)
She has served on the finance committee for the Oslo City Council in Norway, and has also served on the Norwegian Advisory Board of Biotechnology. (worldrowing.com, 01 Nov 2019; Athlete, 26 Feb 2018)
DANCING WITH THE STARS
In 2020 she became the first wheelchair dancer to feature on Norwegian celebrity talent show 'Shall We Dance'. She made the decision to take part in the programme following the postponement of the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, and finished in sixth place. "I like the show because it's so demanding. It's really difficult and the fact that no one's ever done it in a wheelchair in Norway, it means that we can break some new ground. It's cross-training at a whole new level. It surprised me that no matter how many boundaries we broke, or how many crazy impossible things we managed to nail, there was always some people not believing in us and saying I shouldn't be there. Sometimes it felt like it was us against the world and it brought us into a mission that was bigger than us, the mission of communicating that dance is for everyone and we are a part of this world just as much as you are." (paralympic.org, 22 Aug 2020)
|Women's 12 km Sitting||Final Round||2014-03-09||12|
|Women's 1 km Sprint Sitting||Semifinal||2014-03-12||8|
|Women's 5 km Sitting||Final Round||2014-03-16||12|
|Women's Long Distance - Free Style Sitting||Race 1||2015-01-25||9|
|Women's Sprint - Classic Sitting||Race 1||2015-01-28||11|
|Women's Middle Distance - Classic Sitting||Race 1||2015-01-31||11|
|Women's Single Sculls ASW1x||Heat 1||2016-09-09||3|
|Women's Single Sculls ASW1x||Heat 2||2016-09-10||1|
|Women's Single Sculls ASW1x||Final A||2016-09-11||4|
|Women's Sprint - Free Style Sitting||Final||2017-02-12||5|
|Women's Long Distance - Classic Sitting||Final||2017-02-16||2|
|Women's Middle Distance - Free Style Sitting||Final||2017-02-19||3|
|Women's 12km Sitting||Final||2018-03-11||9999|
|Women's 1.1km Sprint Sitting||Final||2018-03-14||8|
|Women's 5km Sitting||Final||2018-03-17||7|
|4x2.5km Mixed Relay||Final||2018-03-18||8|
|Women's Middle Distance - Free Style Sitting||Final||2019-02-17||3|
|Women's Sprint - Free Style Sitting||Final||2019-02-18||4|
|Women's Long Distance - Classic Sitting||Final||2019-02-24||3|