By Rupert Guinness at the Sydney International regatta Centre


Erik Horrie OAM is one of Australian rowing’s most-seasoned international competitors and prolific medal winners.


At the World Rowing Championships, the Para Rowing Single Scull star has won five Gold Medals and three Bronze Medals.

At the Paralympic Games, Horrie has won three Silver Medals, in London (2012) Rio de Janeiro (2016) and Tokyo (2021).


But despite his successes in 13 years on the Australian Rowing Team, three race outcomes get under the 44-year-old Queenslander’s skin.


The first two were in the PR1 Single Sculls at the last two World Championships – his fourth place in 2022 at Račice in the Czech Republic, and then sixth place last year at Belgrade in Serbia. They were his lowest results in World Championship competition.


The third outcome is that he is yet to win a Paralympic Gold Medal – something that he hopes to fix this year at the Paralympic Games in Paris where rowing will be held from August 30-September 1.


Australia has qualified three boats for the 2024 Paralympics, and the PR1 Single Scull is one of them – despite Horrie’s disappointment in his sixth place at last year’s World Championships in which he scratched from the final due to a bicep injury.


“It wasn’t the result that myself or the team was looking for,” Horrie said this week during the Australian Rowing Championships at the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith, in which he will race in the PR1 Single Sculls Final on Friday.


“As an athlete, you have your ups and downs and unfortunately, the bicep decided to not play the game. I injured it before the semi-final.


“I had to go out and do my job [to qualify for the final and sixth place]. I was able to keep the slot for Paris. That was the main part.”


However, Horrie admits that he was emotionally torn by not boating for the final. “Sixth place in the world is great, but it’s not what you go for as an athlete,” Horrie said. “It was probably the hardest, one of the hardest things, that I had actually had to do … and to just sit there and watch everyone race.”


For Horrie, coached by Chad King and recently named in the 2024 Australian Rowing Team, the Australian Rowing Championships are a key part of his domestic preparation for an international season that begins for him at World Cup III in Poznan, Poland from June 14-16.


Horrie makes no secret of his burning desire to win that elusive Paralympic Gold Medal. “It’s so shiny,” he said. “I’m always the bridesmaid.


“It’s actually worked out pretty well because at least the [three] kids won’t argue over what colour medal they got. They’ve all got silver. I just have to get the gold for my wife [Michelle].”


For all his experience, Horrie has not lost the pride he feels whenever he is presented with the Australian racing suit for a World Championship or Paralympic Games. He says the emotion is as strong today as when he was first presented with it before a regatta.


“You feel it down the spine when you your name is called out to represent Australia, or when you put on the suit for the first heat,” Horrie said. “I don’t think that ever goes away. “That’s the great thing about wearing the green and gold.”


Horrie is driven by a competitive desire to win. However, his over-arching motivation is to inspire today’s disadvantaged children and to show them: “You can do anything you want.”


Horrie’s life journey has been one of traumatic challenge.

He was handed over and made a ward of the State by his parents after experiencing domestic violence at the age of seven.


He then became a foster child and was eventually sent to Boys Town, a secondary school adolescent institution in Engadine, Sydney that has been known since 2010 as the Dunlea Centre. Horrie then became a paraplegic at age 21 in a head-on car accident.


But rather than lament on his fate, Horrie is grateful for all that he has in his life that also saw him make the Australian Rollers wheelchair basketball team before turning to rowing in 2011.


Horrie is most grateful for the love and support of his wife Michelle and their three children – daughters Madison, 23, and Summer, 15, and son Lewis, 11. “People forget how much a family sacrifices for athletes,” Horrie said.


Horrie’s resilience has also been forged by the misfortune in his youth. 


“I wouldn’t be the athlete without the accident; and I wouldn’t be the athlete without my childhood,” Horrie said.


“I definitely wouldn’t put it on my worst enemy – my accident, or even my childhood. It was terrible. It is something hard to explain mentally, what it does to you.


“But the situation was out of my control, both situations.


“As a child, you don’t realize it’s happening. When I was a child and the abuse was happening, it didn’t really sink.


“I thought that was how you would be treated. As far as the [car] accident goes. It was just the wrong place, wrong time.


“Someone made a mistake. It’s the worst day of my life, but it might’ve been the best day because it changed my world.


“I’ve now represented Australia in rowing and wheelchair basketball. I’ve done all this and growing. I’m lucky enough to have dinner with various people, an OAM, and all that sort of stuff.


“Without the accident, none of this would have happened.


“Okay, I can’t walk, but you can see me being proud, showing my kids that if you believe in yourself, you can do anything.”


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