A Silver Anniversary for the U.S. Paralympic Four

RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil – Fifteen years ago, Jim Smith sat with his 8-year-old daughter, Jaclyn, and watched the second of two planes crash into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

He and his wife, Annmarie, were New York City police officers at the time, and it was the beginning of a horrible day for the United States and the Smith family.

The Smiths were already dealing with an overwhelming problem. Jaclyn was just out of the hospital and recovering from a kidney infection when the attack happened. Nevertheless, moments later, Jaclyn kissed her dad goodbye as he left to join his wife and fellow police officers at what has become known as “Ground Zero.”

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, was a much different day for the Smiths.

Instead of fearing that she would never see her parents again, Jaclyn stood on the awards dock of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas Paralympic rowing race course in Rio de Janeiro, knowing exactly where her parents were.

They were in the stands watching her win a silver medal in the U.S. legs, trunk and arms four with coxswain.

“Fifteen years ago, I didn’t know if my parents were going to be coming home from work, Smith said. “I’m glad that they were here to see this and that I have had the opportunity to make the Paralympic team and to have won a silver medal.”

1 of 6 Blake Haxton
2 of 6 Helman Roman and Laura Goodkind
3 of 6 Jacqui Kapinpwski
4 of 6 Para Four
5 of 6 Para Four
6 of 6 Para Four

To be sure, for Smith, of Williston Park, N.Y., and the rest of her teammates, coxswain Jenny Sichel (Clifton, N.J.), Dorian Weber (Manhasset, N.Y.), Zachary Burns (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Danielle Hansen (Patterson, Calif.), it was great day.

“I am proud to be a member of this team and to call the people in this boat my teammates,” she said.

The four has finished silver in the event at the last two world championships and came to Rio with a shot at gold. But Great Britain, a crew that had stayed ahead of the U.S. the last two times down the finals course, did again Sunday and won.

The U.S. looked like they would have the win in the early part of the race, jumping off the start in first and holding for the first half of the 1,000-meter race. But Great Britain came up on them through the middle, took the lead and held, finishing first in 3:17.17. The U.S. was second in 3:19.61, and Canada took bronze in 3:19.90.

“I am proud to be a member of this team and to call the people in this boat my teammates,” she said.

The silver medal was a step up from the London Paralympics, when the U.S. finished sixth and never contended for a medal. Weber was in the boat then and was back stroking the crew Sunday.

“It’s a big improvement over 2012,” he said. “We came in sixth and weren’t even competitive. I’m a bit frustrated. I would have liked to have a gold, and I know the others in the boat would have liked to as well.

“We gave it everything we could, and as long as we emptied the tank and left everything on the water, that is all you can ask for,” he said.

Still, it was a silver-medal performance and enough to make U.S. fans and families proud – especially the Smiths.

“I lost a lot of friends that day 15 years ago,” Jim Smith said. “And I am still losing friends from the effects of what they were exposed to there. But this is a great day on the anniversary of a very bad one.”

Smith’s crew was one of four U.S. boats that raced in finals on Sunday. Just before the four, arms and shoulders men’s single sculler Blake Haxton (Columbus, Ohio) rowed in his first-ever Paralympic final.

Haxton was in fifth place until the final 250 meters, when he pulled together a sprint that moved him into fourth and challenged the medal winners. It was not enough to gain the podium, and he finished fourth in 4:54.25.

Ukraine’s Roman Polianskyi won gold in 4:39.56. Erik Horrie of Australia was second in 4:42.94, and Great Britain’s Tom Aggar was third in 4:50.90.

“I had good conditions; I felt good, and I executed my race exactly the way I wanted to,” Haxton said. “That’s maybe the best sprint I ever put together, and I’m happy with that.

“I had good conditions, I felt good and I executed my race exactly the way I wanted to,” Haxton said. “That’s maybe the best sprint I ever put together, and I’m happy with that.

“It’s a fast race, and I have a ton of respect for Tom Aggar. To just be in the discussion with him makes it a pretty good day,” Haxton said. “I’m headed back home to start training again. The word here is that the event is going to change from a 1,000-meter race to 2,000 meters, and I’m really excited about that.”

Rowing in the B final of the women’s arms and shoulders single sculls was Jacqui Kapinowski (Tequesta, Fla.). She won her race and placed seventh overall.

The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. also had significant meaning for Helman Roman (Miami, Fla.). Roman joined the National Guard after 9/11 and was wounded in Afghanistan on Sept. 11, 2009. Roman rowed with Laura Goodkind (Santa Monica, Calif.) and the crew finished fourth in its B final for a 10th-place finish overall.

“We’re tenth place in the world,” he said. “It was an awesome experience and mostly because I am alive and here to do this.”

For complete results, visit World Rowing’s event page.

For daily photographs of the 2016 Paralympic Games venue, Opening Ceremony and racing, visit USRowingphotos.com.

Follow along on social media with #Rio2016 and #Paralympics.

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