For Canberra Hospital emergency department nurse, three-time Paralympian and four-time para-rowing world champion Kathryn Ross, travelling to Japan for the Paralympics is equal parts excitement and nerves.
The lead up to this year’s Paralympics has been different for the athlete, with the raging COVID-19 pandemic complicating both her preparation and the community’s involvement.
“It is exciting the games are finally happening as this is what I have worked towards for many years [but] there are other factors we need to consider apart from performing,” Kathryn tells Region Media.
“[It is also] sad for the family, friends and Japanese community who are missing out on the joy and excitement of the games.”
But the four-time world champion has managed to keep a positive mindset, reflecting on what representing Australia and her work, passion and commitment to the sport of rowing means to her.
Kathryn’s right knee and ankle joints were fused together when she was two after her father accidentally ran over her with a ride-on lawnmower at their family farm in Warrnambool.
She made her Paralympics para-rowing debut in Beijing, in 2008, and took home the silver medal, a truly amazing feat considering she only took up the sport two years earlier.
Five years later, she won her first World Rowing Championships title in South Korea, in 2013, and retained the title for three consecutive years, including 2014 in the Netherlands, and 2015 in France.
Kathryn won another para-rowing gold medal at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Austria.
It was the latter that ranks as one of her proudest moments and greatest personal achievements.
“I have so many proud moments and personal achievements it can be hard to pick one, but the one that shines the most was racing the single in 2019, winning the World Championships in Austria and completing the race with a world record,” says Kathryn.
“I mainly compete in team boats so being able to achieve that result in a single is definitely one of my proudest moments.”
Kathryn is also one of only a handful of para-rowers who have appeared at every Paralympics since the sport was added in 2008.
Now she’s pushing for Paralympics gold after years of maintaining focus, discipline and motivation in her training throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
On top of all this, Kathryn has also had to deal with the added pressures of working in the emergency department at Canberra Hospital during the pandemic, delicately balancing shiftwork with training.
“Life is about balance and balancing conflicting passions,” she says. “I really enjoy my work and helping others. Likewise, I enjoy rowing, achieving and developing in the sport.
“Having satisfaction in both areas are essential in my personal and professional life, providing quality of life.”
State border closures has meant Kathryn has been unable to train with her rowing partner, Simon Albury, who has an equally amazing story of reaching the Australian Rowing Team within two years of taking up the sport after losing both his legs in a farm accident at the end of 2019.
But despite the circumstances being less than ideal, Kathryn has pushed and pulled her way upstream.
“Some days are harder than others,” she says. “I set myself goals every day and every week to keep me on track, whether that is weight training, rowing on water or the ergometer.
“I have my staple routine, but am very adaptable to changing conditions. I try not to let the uncertainties take over as I can only control what I can control.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games take place between 24 August and 5 September, 2021, with more than 4400 athletes from more than 160 nations competing across 22 sports.
The rowing begins on 27 August and will be broadcast across the Seven Network.
For more information, visit Paralympics Australia.