FEATURE: Part 2 of our ANU Boat Club story on Kathryn Ross and Renae Domaschenz.
In Part 2 of our feature on Rowing duo Kathryn Ross and her Coach Renae Domaschenz, Ross, a competitor in the PR2 category at the Paralympics, takes us through her rowing journey and relationship with her taskmaster.
Kathryn Ross is Australia's most successful female para rower, and Australia's only triple Paralympic Games rower, male or female having competed in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. With four World titles to her name, as well as a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, she is a legend in the sport.
It was a love of rowing that brought Ross to Canberra in the first place, she moved to the City to row with the AIS but, by 2014, she had migrated permanently to the ACT where she became Rowing Australia's Para Athlete of the Year and CBR Sport Awards Athlete of the Year - Para Sport in 2019.
“There was a talent search day held by the Australian Paralympic Committee coming to the region, so I went along to see how I held up against their targets,” Ross recalls of her move. “I was assessed in multiple different sports, such as basketball, athletics, swimming, rowing, and tennis. Upon completion of the event, even though I was a good swimmer, the team said I had talent in rowing and tennis.
“At the time to compete and train in tennis I would have to move to Melbourne, whereas in rowing I could start off locally. Therefore, being a lover of water, I choose rowing as it looked challenging to me and I liked a challenge. From the day I started, I loved it, the gracefulness of moving the boat on top of the water, the sound of the water moving under your boat, the freedom-feeling it gave me, the way you have to fight side by side in a race, I was hooked.”
Sport was always a big part of Ross’ young life despite an early accident that gave her a limited option of what she was able to choose.
“When I was two years of age I was involved in an accident where I was run over by a lawn mower,” Ross said. “I loved to play sport while growing up, but I found options limiting. I did try my hand at what I could, however rowing was not a sport that I was originally attracted to.
“All my life I have been an avid swimmer, as it was a good rehab source, and when I 23 years old I took up open water competition swimming locally in south west Victoria. At the time I was competing against able-bodied people, and doing quite well, when someone mentioned, why I don’t try my hand at the Paralympics.
“I am classified in the class PR2 which use to be call Trunk and Arms rowing, where I row using my upper body from the hips to propel the boat instead of using my legs. Therefore, working perfectly for my condition.”
For someone who is active every day of the week, the lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic caused some major disruptions to Ross’ training regime. Adaptation though is key in top-class sporting fields and Ross refused to let such disruptions stop her strive for excellence.
“I was lucky enough over the last couple of years to build a gym set-up in my garage,” Ross commented. “I have a full set-up that can accommodate for all my weight and cross training needs; therefore, lockdown hasn’t really affected my training drastically.
“I have taken this lockdown time to work on my strength training upping the sessions to four times a week. I have included more ergonomic sessions and bike sessions as well as focusing on core strength and stretching and recovery on my Pilates reformer.”
Central to her training program is, of course, her long-standing Coach and friend Renae Domaschenz, herself well-versed with the stresses and strains that come with competing at an international standard.
“Renae is not only an exceptional accomplished athlete and coach, but she is also an esteemed academic as a Doctor in Cancer Research,” Ross said of Domaschenz. “I met Renae in 2015 and I knew straight away that I wanted her to be my Coach one day. I saw she was dedicated, driven, passionate and excited about the sport of rowing.
“It wasn’t until 2018 when we finally did come together. After having a break post the 2016 Paralympics, I sought out Renae and stated if I was going to have one last go at the Games, I wanted her to be my coach. I wanted someone who wanted to get the best out of me, challenge me, push me beyond my limits and make me be the best athlete I can possibly be.
“She has a holistic care about her athletes, which I believe supports them to greatness. It’s not just about getting on the water and doing the training, it’s about getting the best out of the athlete, every session, mentally and physically. Together, we are an amazing team.”
Domaschenz would no doubt agree with Ross’ assessment of a partnership that has been dripping in success since its formation. Ross has many memories of her time in the sport, each with their own special place in her heart. However, pushed to describe her greatest achievement, she nominates the World Rowing Championships of 2019.
“Competing at the World Rowing Championships last year in Linz, Austria in the single scull would have to be one of the best moments of my career,” she told ANU Sport. “Competing on the world stage in a solo event for the first time, I’ve always competed in the PR2 Mixed Double Scull in the past, felt like a true testament of my own abilities.
“It was so exciting to see what I could do and where I sit amongst the world’s best. I was so nervous, yet so excited, and when I finished, not only did I win the race but also broke the World Record for the distance, it is a feeling I will never forget.”
With the Ross and Domaschenz partnership showing no signs of slowing down, that moment may well be eclipsed in the not too distant future especially with the potential of a Gold Medal glittering in the Tokyo Paralympic Games next year. You certainly wouldn’t put that achievement past this particular dynamic duo.
Story: Russ Gibbs