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Dr Renae Domaschenz – Coxing, Coaching and curing cancer

Dr Renae Domaschenz

There is more to Australian coxswain Renae Domaschenz than meets the eye. The Canberra- local is not only the coxswain of the PR3 Mixed Coxed Four at the upcoming 2018 World Rowing Championships but she is also a research fellow from the John Curtin School for Medical Research at the Australian National University, researching cancer epigenetics, as well as being a high performance rowing coach for Rowing ACT and the ACT Academy of Sport.

South Australian-born Dr Domaschenz has studied across the globe for her work and coxing career. “When I finished school in Adelaide, I studied at the University of Adelaide before going to Cambridge University in the UK for my PhD and then onto Imperial College London before settling into research at ANU. My Phd was in Molecular Oncology with my current field of research being cancer epigenetics. I look at the epigenetic modifications of DNA in a cancer cell and determine if alterations in chromatin structure can effect cancer initiation or progression – trying to cure cancer basically!”

The 39-year-old found her way into coxing while based in the UK back in 2002, “I relocated to the UK to do my Phd at Darwin College in Cambridge and moved into a shared house with a couple of ‘boaties’. They were boat club captains, I was quite small, and coxes are hard to come by so they asked me if I wanted to come down and give it a go. I later joined City of Cambridge Rowing Club to expand my coxing experience, to learn more and to learn to row myself.

“I didn’t know anyone when I arrived so I thought it would be a good way to meet people and make some new friends. I’m quite competitive, and have always been involved in sport. I was a dancer, a long distance runner and hockey player growing up, so it wasn’t unexpected that I got hooked on rowing quite quickly.

Renae coxing

“I moved up the ranks in a short period of time and was lucky enough to be selected to cox the Oxford/Cambridge boat races (Cambridge’s women’s crews in 2004 and 2005). I found it a really enjoyable and unique experience. Once I graduated, I moved down to London and joined the high performance squad at Molesey Boat Club. I lived in central London so this involved getting up at 4am every morning, running to the bus station, jumping on a train to Hampton Court Palace and running along the banks of the river to get to the club in time for training. I’d then run back to the train station and get changed during the first few stops on the journey back into London to make sure I was on time for work. It was an awesome time to be involved with the U23 British rowing system and it was from this time that I also started coaching in London and Cambridge before I came into the higher level of the sport.”

Domaschenz is relishing the opportunity to cox Australia’s PR3 crew at this year’s World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, “I’ve been coxing for a little while now and although my coxing and working career was mostly in Europe, I feel really lucky to have been given the opportunity to represent Australia at the level of the World Championships.

“It’s great that you can cox at any age, and to be able to fit this in my life, along with my career, and my coaching is down to the support of those around me and I think I’m very lucky to be able to do that.”

Domaschenz’s passion for rowing can not only be found simply from enjoying being around the sport and it’s community, but also comes from one of her best friends and former coaches, the late Cranch Lamble.

“Within a few years of moving to the UK, I met Cranch, who was not only one of my coaches and best friends but also an ex-coxswain who had  aspirations to make the GB team when he was younger. Cranch coached us toward our Henley win, in 2010 but four years ago he very sadly passed away after a 2 year fight with cancer at 37.”

The cancer biologist is currently finishing her friend’s coxing book that he started before he passed away, and believes that Lamble is on this coxing journey with her now. “I would say he was my inspiration to continue coxing when I came back to Australia. I originally thought after such opportunity and experience in Europe that I’d stop and find another sport to fuel my competitiveness. He was the one that knew I could do more, he told me that it didn’t matter how old you are, that if you keep your wits about you and stay smart, keep learning, coaching and coxing then you’ll no doubt one day get the opportunity to represent your country.”

Domaschenz is regularly asked whether there is much of a difference between coxing a para-rowing crew and an able-bodied crew.

“I can tell you that my experience of coxing a para crew is fundamentally the same as coxing an able-bodied crew. My role is still part motivator, part strategist and part coach. I don’t evaluate how I should cox a crew with disabilities, instead, like any other crew, I look at how to cox them based on their abilities,” admitted the ANU Boat Club member.

“Once the basic skills have been acquired and the crew begins to work harder, gets faster and gets stronger, it’s easy to forget they have any impairments at all. Having said that, I do approach every crew I cox differently, not because they have impairments but because every crew, para or able-bodied, consists of different individual people.

‘For instance, some people think you need to cox a visually impaired athlete differently; however, the coxswain is the ‘eyes’ of the crew. Coxing a visually impaired rower is not so different from coxing able-bodied rowers who are racing backwards down the course somewhat blind. Both crews require verbal direction on where they are on the race course and where they are in relation to other crews.”

With the World Championships starting today in Plovdiv, the PR3 crew have had a good build up during their camp in Italy, alongside the whole Australian team, despite a last minute change to the crew.

“We are lucky that Alex Vuillermin was able to step in for Kate Murdoch who unfortunately had to withdraw injured the week of departure for Italy. The number of PR3 athletes are growing around Australia and many have taken part in the Rowing Australia #Train4Tokyo camps, which has given them great exposure to each other. Given this, Alex has rowed with the other athletes in the crew before so it meant that Alex easily slotted into the group on her arrival in Italy.

“The team had a good preparation camp at the AIS European Training Centre leading into Plovdiv and the crew has settled well. We’ll go out there on race day and give the best performance we can with this new combination. I’m looking forward to the World Championships, they are a great bunch of athletes to be around and I’m really excited to see what we and the rest of the team can do,” concluded Domaschenz.