Patience steers Para rower James Fox through coronavirus pandemic

British Paralympic champion shares about a scuppered summer, ‘climbing Everest’ and baking bread 06 May 2020
Male British rower smiles with both arms raised
James Fox has helped Great Britain to a Paralympic title and three World Championship wins
ⒸNick Middleton
By Tim Norris | For the IPC

For the second successive year, British Para rower James Fox is missing out on a summer of sport for reasons beyond his control.

Two years ago, an operation for a hip injury ruled the reigning Paralympic rowing champion out of the season. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the postponement of Tokyo 2020 to 2021. 

So while the Paralympic and world champion is eager to get back to the water, he is accustomed to playing the waiting game. 

“Winter training is well known to be absolutely grim,” the 28-year-old said. “Lots of early mornings, lots of cold, wet sessions on the lake. The whole time, the only thing getting you through is racing in the summer. With the pandemic, this is the second time I’ve done the full winter training and not been able to race in the summer. 

“I’m not trying to make a habit of it, but I’m doing a pretty good job!”

Psychologically prepared

The disappointment first time around has helped Fox prepare for the mental challenge during the pandemic.

“I think especially in the Paralympics, we overcome adversity every time we go out on the water or turn up to training,” explained Fox, who started rowing at age 11 and was a junior star. But he broke his back in a car accident a few months into his university. 

“I was really upset when we found out that we weren’t racing,” Fox continued. “But you get your head around it and I’m still very hopeful to be racing next year.” 

The Brit discovered Para rowing after his coach attended a conference about talent identification and suggested Fox try it out. Fast forward, and Fox was rowing the stroke position for ParalympicsGB’s mixed coxed four gold medal squad at the Rio 2016 Games.

“As awful as it sounds though, we were expected to do it. We were expected to go out and win,” Fox admitted.

James Fox with Ellen Buttrick (from left), Giedre Rakauskaite, Oliver Stanhope and Erin WWyscoki-Jones at the 2019 World Championships


He had helped Team GB win consecutive world championships (2013-2015) in the lead up.  

“But my junior days remain my fondest memories,” he added. “I had no expectation. I was fast and I’d go out and win races. Although they were small, I really enjoyed it.” 

Since the 2016 Paralympics, Fox has helped form a new mixed coxed four crew. While they may be apart due to the pandemic, they remain in close contact and challenge each other.

“It’s times like these where we have to come together as a crew. Create a plan of action, get by each other and give each other a push. It will be hard for different people at different times. We can only prepare for that and taper the programme around it. It’s an opportunity to try new things, different training programmes – and that’s exactly what we’re doing now.”

Climbing Everest

One such challenge is an unusual one – climbing Everest. That is, virtually. 

“We have to submit three lots of scores per week and our coach sets us fun challenges. So in early May, I’m going to climb Everest on my bike! It’s an 8,400 metre climb. You submit your time, wattage and heart rate, and then compare yourselves. It’s light-hearted and fun, but it’s also functional.” 

Everest is not the only recent change of scene for Fox, having moved into a new apartment with his girlfriend just before lockdown began. He is making the most of the new environment to pursue some interests outside of sport. 

“I really enjoy baking. Mainly bread. I’ve got a sourdough starter. It’s good for experimentation and keeps the mind focused. You have to be incredibly patient – from start to finish it can take around 16 hours and there are steps within that, so it’s a real labour of love!”