Charley Nordin represented the US at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games winning a silver medal in the PR3 mixed four with coxswain event, two days later he embarked on a MSc in Social Comparative Change at Trinity College Dublin. The 24-year-old laid back Californian took this transition in his stride, “I love Trinity College Dublin and the course I am studying. The master’s programme I am doing is comparative social change. It is a dual programme between UCD and Trinity, I identify more with Trinity as I live here and row with Dublin University Boat Club (DUBC). Rowing for Trinity has been great, I have gotten close with the guys on the squad, that helped to make the transition from being a Paralympian to going back to study much easier.”

Sport has always been a part of Charley’s life, “I initially grew up playing soccer and then transitioned into cross-country running and track and field – that's when I found my passion for endurance sports.” Charley’s athletic career was about to take off when he sustained a devastating injury at sixteen years old, “I fell off a rope swing, it broke before I was out over the water, so I fell about 40 feet onto a rocky shore. I ended up having burst fractures on my L3, L4 and L5 vertebrae which resulted in permanent nerve damage. The bones cracked outwards which then partially severed my spinal cord, I have nerve damage throughout my right leg, I cannot feel my right leg at all. My right calf and glute do not work at all, which is what qualifies me for the Paralympics. The injury itself was the hardest time in my life, I went from being a sixteen-year-old kid that loved sports to not being able to walk and being in hospital and in a wheelchair for months.”

Once Charley got to a stage where he could begin rehab for his life altering injury he put as much dedication into physical therapy as he did when he was training to be a high-performance athlete. “Rehabilitation became my new sport; I would spend five hours a day doing as many physical therapy exercises as I could. I got stronger and stronger.”

Finding rowing was a serendipitous moment for Charley, on the second day of orientation week in his first year of studying at Gonzaga University the assistant rowing coach, Mark Vorhees saw 6 ft 8-inch Nordin over a sea of freshers and waved him over to the rowing stand. “I had never really heard of the sport, Mark told me that I am tall, and I would be good at it. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about my injury, but Mark assured me that we could work around it and make me stronger. After a week of training, I was in love with the sport, and I have never looked back.”

Six years later Charley was representing the US at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, “it feels almost surreal getting called up and having the honour to wear red, white, and blue and represent your country on the biggest stage of all. It was a proud and emotional moment for my family and close friends who were constantly there for me during my recovery. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics was the most special couple of weeks of my life, being a part of a community that understands you and understands what you have gone through was incredible.”

Charley’s advice for anyone who has a disability or injury is to get involved in sport “my advice would be to go for it, you are more capable that you ever could imagine. I know there is a lot of uncertainty about what you can and cannot do but you will not know until you try.” When asked what his long-term goal is, the answer was “looking forward, I would love to have the opportunity to go and race at the Paris 2024 Paralympics. I have a lot of hard training to do and will be going for gold when I get there.”

Charley Nordin has been awarded a Podium Level Trinity Sport Scholarship which recognises his exceptional athletic ability.

This interview first featured in the Summer Edition of Trinity Today, to read the full publication, click here.