Paralympic champion James Fox has vowed to come back stronger than ever after taking a break from rowing following surgery on a longstanding hip problem.
The 26-year-old from Peterborough claimed gold with the Great Britain team PR3 (formerly LTA) mixed coxed four at Rio 2016 after winning three successive world titles.
He followed up his triumph in Brazil with another gold at the World Championships in Sarasota-Bradenton last year, where the PR3 crew set a new world best time.
But Fox took the decision to undergo surgery on his hip earlier this year and is now going through rehab to ensure he is back to full fitness for Olympic qualification next year.
And despite being frustrated about not being able to defend his world title this year, Fox believes his time off from the intensity of para-rowing could be a blessing in disguise.
“I have just recently had surgery on my hip, it’s a bit of wear and tear that’s been growing over the last four years, so it had to be done and now is not a bad time to do it,” he said.
“I’ll be back in the boat within two or three months, so it gives me plenty of time to get back ready for qualification next year and then for Tokyo in 2020.
“I don’t have to actually race until next May, so there’s no rush to be back. The first World Cup is May and that’s the big one for me.
“For now, it’s just about taking the time to let it heal as it was a major operation and I had quite a lot of damage - I did more damage than I realised at the time.
“This is an off year for me. It’s a time to sit back and it’s quite nice to take a mental break as well.”
Fox, who began para-rowing after he broke his back in a car crash, revealed his hip problem prevented him from getting into the right positions, but he remains confident he can make it back-to-back gold medals in Tokyo.
“I hope it will put me in a better position to retain the title in Tokyo,” he said. “One of the reasons I had my hip looked at as I was struggling getting into the right positions.
“My joints were compromised as I couldn’t comfortably get into the right positions anymore and I thought that was a bit strange.
“So to have my hip completely healed will undoubtedly make it a lot easier for me to be in the right positions and that’s going to make me go faster whichever way you look at it.
“That’s exciting and I know I’ll come back as a stronger athlete so although it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth at the moment, it’s going to be positive in the long run.”
And Fox has taken advantage of his break from training and competing to help boost the sport’s profile by taking on the role of City Champion for Cambridge at the Power8 Sprints.
Speaking at the event, he said: “I wouldn’t be able to do the Power8 Sprints and be an ambassador if I wasn’t taking this break, the rest of the guys are mainly retired rowers and very successful.
“But the fact is I would normally be in training now and I would be in training camp, so you have to seize these opportunities and I’m looking at it through rose-tinted glasses at the moment.”
The event, which took place at the Bristol Harbour Festival, saw teams from eight cities compete against each other in races over 350 metres in a knockout competition.
“It’s a pretty revolutionary idea,” said Fox. “There have been calls for rowing to be more exciting and more appealing for spectators and I think 350 metres is awesome for that.
“You can see the whole race and it’s just a lot more exciting as it’s smaller margins and faster racing. So if this takes off I think it will be very good for the sport.”
n The inaugural Power8 Sprints took place in Bristol last week. To find out how the action unfolded visit www.power8sprints.com