Ed’s rowing for gold

Written by Jessica Bomford, September 2, 2023

Rower Ed Fuller has set his sights on a gold medal at the 2024 Paralympics after overcoming significant joint damage caused by his haemophilia to reach the top of his sport.

Ed, 20, who has moderate haemophilia A, is the World and European champion in the mixed coxed four and a key part of the British Para-Rowing team. On 4 September, Ed and his team begin the defence of their world title at the World Rowing Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

Success here means their boat will qualify to compete in the Paralympics in Paris, although the rowers will have to trial next season to be selected for the team.

Meet Ed at our Big Get-Together

We’re really excited to announce that Ed will be joining us at our Big Get-Together conference in Leeds on 18 November to talk about getting the most out of sport with a bleeding disorder.

Ed Fuller credit Daniel Lewis for British Rowing

Ed’s success is particularly impressive because Ed experienced serious ankle bleeds as a child which threatened to limit his participation in sport.

Ed, pictured left (picture credit: Daniel Lewis for British Rowing), was diagnosed with haemophilia at the age of two. Although his clotting levels are only 1.3%, Ed did not receive any treatment for his condition until he was 11, despite a bad bleed aged nine.

With damaged ankle joints, Ed had to use a wheelchair for a while and had difficulty walking until another bad bleed two years later persuaded his consultant to begin prophylaxis treatment.

Today Ed has restricted mobility and strength in his ankles and has calf wastage as well as a smaller quad muscle in one leg. He uses an adapted footboard in his boat which allows him to get into the correct rowing position without putting tension through his ankles.

Discovered rowing at primary school

An active child, Ed knew he couldn’t compete in rugby, hockey or cricket and, for the first time, felt ‘different’ because of his bleeding disorder. After trying a rowing machine as part of his primary school’s exercise club he found he not only enjoyed it but had talent.

Ed said: ‘I was beating all the other kids, ones that were bigger than me. It was probably one of the first instances of when my competitive nature came out. I really enjoyed trying hard and having fun.’

A few months later he went on a rowing course in his home city of Exeter, and knew he’d found his sport. He trained hard and progressed quickly, winning the national championships at the age of 14 and joining the national squad in 2022.

Ed Fuller (middle) credit Benedict Tufnell for British Rowing

Now Ed trains at British Rowing’s facilities at Caversham, near Reading, three times a day, six or seven times a week. He’s pictured, middle, with his teammates after winning the European Championships earlier this year (photo credit: Benedict Tufnell for British Rowing). Ed treats himself every other day, or on consecutive days if necessary. He is supported by the team’s physiotherapist Pat Dunleavy, who Ed says is ‘hugely important’ in keeping his gruelling training schedule on track.

Overcoming needle phobia

One of the major obstacles Ed had to overcome aged 17 was learning to self-infuse, despite a huge needle phobia, so that he could be fully independent and focus on his sport. He said: ‘There were points at the start when it was quite wobbly and I had bad runs of missing the vein quite a lot. I used to get really shaky hands, but I learnt to stay calm and it’s become easier, mentally. Now I’ve got it down, my quickest time is seven minutes, when I’m in a rush to get to training in the morning!’

The achievements of Alex Dowsett, who blazed a trail for people with haemophilia by forging a highly successful professional cycling career, helped Ed believe he too could get to the very top of sport.

Ed said: ‘If I had to pinpoint one sporting role model for me growing up it would definitely be Alex. He’s got the same condition as me and is on the same medication, and absolutely crushed it with some of the best athletes in the world. He is a huge inspiration for me.

‘If there’s one child with haemophilia in the country that thinks of me in the way that I think of Alex then that would be incredible.’

Good luck, Ed! We’re all supporting you.

You can follow the World Rowing Championships live across British Rowing social media channels and on the World Rowing website. Finals will be shown on BBC2, BBC iPlayer and the BBC website.