Paralympics-bound: Easthampton’s Saige Harper makes USA team in rowing in Paris this summer

Easthampton’s Saige Harper (front) celebrates with her Team USA teammates during the 2023 World Rowing Championships in Serbia last September. She will compete in the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris this summer.

Easthampton’s Saige Harper (front) celebrates with her Team USA teammates during the 2023 World Rowing Championships in Serbia last September. She will compete in the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris this summer. PHOTO VIA USA ROWING

Easthampton’s Saige Harper (left) celebrates with Team USA during the 2023 World Rowing Championships in Serbia last September. She will compete in the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris this summer.

Easthampton’s Saige Harper (left) celebrates with Team USA during the 2023 World Rowing Championships in Serbia last September. She will compete in the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris this summer. PHOTO VIA USA ROWING

Easthampton’s Saige Harper (center) competes with her Team USA teammates during the 2023 World Rowing Championships in Serbia last September. She will compete in the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris this summer.

Easthampton’s Saige Harper (center) competes with her Team USA teammates during the 2023 World Rowing Championships in Serbia last September. She will compete in the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris this summer. PHOTO VIA USA ROWING

By BRADYN COTE

For the Gazette

Published: 04-09-2024 3:58 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Easthampton native Saige Harper has been selected to compete in the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris this summer, rowing for the United States in the PR3 Mixed Double Sculls. It’s a dream achievement for Harper, a senior at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.

From a young age, Harper has always been surrounded by water, whether it be in the pool to swim where she competed for 16 years, or rowing, which didn’t come into her life until the end of fifth grade. When she was 14 years old, Harper was involved in a tubing accident on the Connecticut River in 2014 where a rope almost severed her left leg — leaving permanent damage to where she now has no feeling in that limb.

With her love for sports, Harper leaned on swimming and rowing as motivation to recover from loss of the use of her leg.

“I was able to use my passion for my sports to start walking again, and then get in the water and rowing again to get back to a place where I knew I could get myself,” said Harper.

The injury didn’t hold her back as she went on to have quite the swimming career at Easthampton High School, where she was a three-time team MVP, MIAA Division 2 state qualifier, a member of school-record 200 and 400-yard freestyle relay teams, and co-captain for the 2018-2019 season.

Harper always used rowing as cross-training to make her a better swimmer, but was then recruited to colleges for both rowing and swimming. At a pivotal point in her life, Harper had to make a choice, and she chose the boat.

“The decision wasn’t super hard because I had been swimming for so long,” said Harper, who for four years has been a member of Sacred Heart’s rowing team. “I was ready for new challenges.”

Harper’s older sister Jessica also competed in the pool and led the University of New Hampshire to an America East championship. Following in her footsteps for some time, Harper said she looked up to her sister, but was ready to step out and try something new.

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“I wanted to be my own athlete and pave my own path,” Harper said. “It wasn’t a super hard decision, but I was choosing the more challenging one.”

Her success on Sacred Heart’s rowing team led to some competition at the international level, and a short time later she was rowing in events across the world. In 2022, Harper competed in the World Championships and finished fifth in the PR3 mixed four with coxswain, and then followed that up with a silver in the same event at the 2023 World Championships.

Both the mixed double and the mixed four qualified the U.S. for Paris, but that didn’t mean that Harper and other rowers would be automatically competing in this summer’s Paralympic Games. Rowers still had to go through selection camp and be selected to make the team.

Harper received her invitation for the selection camp in Sarasota, Florida in January. She was there for a little over two weeks where she tried out for both the four and the double teams. She was ultimately selected to compete in the mixed doubles sculls for this summer’s games.

“I made the double, which is super awesome,” Harper said. “[This is] a brand new experience for me because I haven’t sculled competitively in races or anything since high school.”

Collegiate rowing features only fours and eights for boat classes, meaning Harper is exploring new territory with Team USA.

Joining Harper in the mixed double is Todd Vogt, who lives in Portland, Oregon. Vogt has been in the double boat for the past few years and has competition experience there, whereas Harper has international experience in the four. Both partners hope to bring something to the table when they team together later this summer.

Until the end of May, Harper will continue to compete for Sacred Heart while Vogt will pursue his training back in Oregon. The two will then train together in the summer before the Games, which run from Aug. 28 to Sept. 8. The rowing events at the Paralympics will be held at Vaires-sur-Marne Nautical Stadium from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.

“Rowing is probably the most challenging sport I’ve ever been a part of,” Harper said. “I say that with pride because it takes a certain type of person to be a rower and to stick with a sport like that.”

As tough as the sport can be, Harper said she has her family, friends, and teammates with her every step of the way, driving her to do her best.

“My sister has been my role model, but also my best friend and my biggest cheerleader for my whole life, and her first time seeing me row in person for Team USA is at the Paralympics,” said Harper.

Being able to compete at the highest level in front of her friends, family, and country has Harper filled with excitement as the summer slowly approaches.

The Paris Games will have live coverage on USA Network and CNBC, plus nine hours on NBC, including six hours in prime time. Overall, there will be more than 140 hours on TV. Streaming coverage on Peacock will serve about 1,500 live hours across all 22 Paralympic sports, up from 1,000-plus hours of streaming for the Tokyo Games on NBC Sports digital platforms and Peacock. NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app will again also have comprehensive live streaming coverage.