Rowing with Heart: Saige Harper Makes Paralympic Team

On Jan. 17, U.S. Rowing announced who will represent Team USA at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris, France. Sacred Heart University (SHU) senior Saige Harper secured a spot on the U.S. Rowing Paralympic National Team, making this her fourth appearance with Team USA.

The U.S. Paralympic athletes were chosen through a selection camp process in Sarasota, Fla. a few weeks ago. Before Harper secured her spot in the boat, her recruitment process dates back two years with the assistance of SHU women’s rowing coach Lucas Wilhelm.

Wilhelm, in his third year of coaching at the university, reflected on his first impressions of Harper.

“The first handshake and introduction with Saige was one thing, but meeting her through her actions and practice I saw a whole other Saige,” said Wilhelm. “She’s a killer, a racer, and she has huge potential.”

Harper was recruited to team USA in the post-olympic year. In the summer of 2022, she competed in her first World Rowing Championships in the Czech Republic.

This previous summer she performed at her second World Rowing Championships in Serbia where her boat placed second. This race qualified the boat for the Paralympics, but it did not guarantee Harper a spot until she attended selection camp at Sarasota.

“Everyone was there, some even from the Toko 2021 Olympics, all trying out for a spot,” said Harper. “It was the most competitive it’s ever been.”

Harper successfully claimed a spot on the PR3 Mixed Double Sculls, a position she had not been in previously.

“It’s really exciting, a brand new experience,” said Harper.

Harper said upon hearing the news of her success, the first person she told was friend and teammate, senior Cara McDonald.

These women have watched SHU’s rowing team evolve over the past four years, to which McDonald credits a majority of this growth to Harper’s reliability and her motivation. “From the time she started training with Team USA all led her up to this moment,” said

McDonald. “We are all super excited to see all her hard work pay off.” Wilhelm also witnessed growth and strength of Harper since becoming her coach. “Her impact on the team can’t be understated. She’s a hype man and wickedly intense,”

said Wilhelm. “Even if she’s having a bad day, she’s still breathing fire.” In addition to Harper’s impact on the team, Wilhelm said her accomplishment has influenced many young women. High schoolers have reached out to Wilhelm and his

coaching staff to express their interest in the university’s rowing program. Wilhelm said this is a chance for Harper to prove herself as one of the first paralympians

SHU has seen, and more importantly, a role model to young women. Harper said she knows the popularity and significance her name holds for younger girls looking up to her, yet she is nervous of this role. She struggles to see herself as a role model when she still views herself as a regular college student.

Before Harper will attend the Paralympic games, she has a lot of senior-year milestones she wishes to achieve first.

“[I have] my graduation, the last MACC Championships ever, and other senior year things I want to do,” said Harper. “I’m trying to only focus on that to not get overwhelmed.” Along with finishing her senior year, Harper will also attend her third World Rowing

Championship in Poland and a training trip before the Paralympics in Italy. “I’m taking it all one step at a time,” she said.

Sacred Heart Athletics contributed to this article.

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