By Mariya Abedi
The air was perfectly still at Lagao Stadium in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as Jenny Sichel and her four teammates waited in their rowing boat at the starting line, oars in hand.
The Clifton-native, along with the rest of the U.S. para-rowing team, had been working towards this moment for years: a chance at winning a medal in the Paralympic Games. And 3:19.61 seconds later, her dream came true.
The team placed second in the LTA4+ mixed coxed four race, earning the silver medal. Sichel, as the coxswain of the crew, steered the team across the finish line for the 1000-meter event.
“It’s a bit of mixed emotions,” the 28-year-old said after the race. “I’m obviously really proud that we came in second place representing the U.S., but I’m also disappointed that we didn’t come in first.”
The U.S. team started out in first place after 250-meters, but was edged out by Great Britain for the gold. They kept their momentum going the rest of the way, maintaining their number two position with each stroke. Sichel says she doesn’t have any regrets about the team’s performance on the water.
“I definitely believe we did the best we could, and everyone on the team did their job for their seat. Our game plan was to go out there and just row our race, and that’s what we did,” said Sichel with her beaming mom by her side.
“I just can’t even express how I’m feeling right,” said Sharon Sichel. “We’ve been with her on this journey for several years, and just to see how this team has improved and worked together has been incredible.”
It was a family affair in Rio for Sichel. Her mom, dad and brother made the trip down to Rio to see her compete. Sichel’s brother, William, said there’s nowhere else they would be.
“Being able to be here and cheer her on in person has been so incredibly exciting,” he said. “Watching her get the medal put around her neck was just an amazing feeling.”
Sichel’s parents rushed to meet her after the medal ceremony, and her dad snapped away on his camera, not wanting to miss a single moment.
“It’s been a long road. They’ve been working really hard,” he remarked. “It’s just so nice to see them finish with a medal.”
It was ten years ago when Sichel first picked up an oar while she was a freshman at Bryn Mawr College. She credits her competitive nature for making varsity as a novice and then continued to push herself to become a better rower, leading to multiple collegiate awards.
But after an injury left her with two herniated discs, she was physically unable to row and decided to try coxing, which she soon started to excel at. In 2014 and 2015, Sichel and her team won silver at the World Champions for the same race as the Paralympics.
The LTA4+ mixed category consists of female and male athletes who are visually or physically impaired but can use their leg, trunk and arms to row. Sichel became involved with para-rowing after meeting a coach during a college summer camp.
“The second I was introduced to para-rowing, I was hooked. I haven’t looked back,” Sichel said. “I want to keep promoting it. Our athletes are amazing, and I can’t say enough about them.”
Sichel said she hopes to get more people interested in para-rowing and get them to give the sport a try.
“It’s up and coming. The fact that we got silver shows a lot and eventually, it’s going to be big in the U.S.,” Sichel said.
And then she paused.
“I guess getting a silver medal in your first Paralympics isn’t so bad,” she laughed.