The world-renowned rowing course at Lake Barrington holds a special place in Alexandra Viney's heart.
The 28-year-old Tasmanian-born rower has seen victory on the course as a school-aged able-bodied athlete, and now as a para athlete hoping to reach the Paralympic Games.
"I rowed non-stop from grade 7 to 12 - I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to row during my school years," Viney said.
She attended Launceston Church Grammar School, and was able to contribute to its rich rowing history.
During her final year of school rowing, Viney's crew went undefeated throughout the Tasmanian 2010 season in a number of boat classes.
The highly-competitive Grammar squad rounded out their season at the Tasmanian Head of the River at Lake Barrington with a convincing win in the prestigious school-girls' eights race. That squad also included Australian rowing team member Ciona Wilson.
"Rowing at school was amazing for me. Sport allowed me to learn about what I was capable of and how to express myself," Viney said.
In December 2010, the night before her grade 12 graduation, Viney was involved in a serious car accident on Westbury Road in Launceston.
The accident left Viney with serious physical injuries to her left elbow, forearm and hand. She also faced ongoing mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.
After the accident, Viney, despite being such a successful school-aged athlete, was turned away from taking part in sports due to the damage her arm.
"My physical injury was something people could see and there was judgement passed on that," she said.
"People can see a scar but when you have a mental health challenge - that's something that's very personal and you don't tend to show those scars."
In 2012, Viney moved to Victoria to study a Bachelor of Exercise Science majoring in Sports Nutrition at Deakin University.
She decided to throw her passion for sport into pursuing a career in coaching and strength and conditioning - keeping sport as the key driver of her life.
"I genuinely thought that this [coaching] was the only way I was going to taste athletic success post the car accident," Viney said.
When reflecting on what kept her away from taking part in sport as an athlete, Viney said the public perception of the disability was a major factor. "I visually didn't meet a 'stereotypical image' created by an unfair perception of disability," she said.
"Yet aspects of my body were different to how I was before the accident. On both fronts I was met with judgement and was dismissed a lot of the time."
In early 2018, while coaching Australian Rules football at St Joseph's Football and Netball Club in Geelong, Viney was asked why she wasn't taking part in para sports.
"One of the coaches there asked why I wasn't playing - I said I was a little unreliable on the marking side of things," she said.
"Then they asked why I wasn't in para-sport - that was actually the first time someone ever said that to me.
"I was absolutely taken aback, I went home - got a little upset - then thought was it actually something I could do?"
In November 2018, after eight years out from rowing, Viney found herself sitting in a boat on the Barwon River. Under the watchful eye of her new coach Geoff Boucher at the Barwon Rowing Club, Viney took her first few strokes.
"Our focus was on trying to get me to sweep [one oar per person in the boat]. I had a makeshift adaptive mitt that attempted to attach me to the oar. It wasn't great but it allowed me to make a start," she said.
Three months later, Viney was selected to join the PR3 mixed coxed four on the Australian rowing team alongside James Talbot, Ben Gibson, Renae Domaschenz (coxswain) and Viney's pairs partner and housemate Alex Vuillermin.
As well as being housemates, Viney and Vuillermin hold the record for the women's 2km para-rowing, and were the first pair to race more than 5km.
"I see a lot in her that I wanted when I was that age so there's a bit of a care-factor there as well," Viney said.
"She makes me want to be better every day and the fact we're chasing the same goal feels unreal."
On a global scale, Viney has represented Australia in Italy at the Gavirate International Para Regatta in the PR3 mixed coxed four in 2019, where the crew claimed a silver medal.
Viney has also raced in Austria at the World Rowing Championships where the crew raced to the line but just missed out on the bronze medal.
"Rowing is such a simple sport, it's relentless but so rewarding," she said.
"If you're in a boat with someone else, you both need to be in the right head space to get the outcome you want. It's a sport of efficiency paired with teamwork."
With races all-but canned in 2020 due to COVID-19, Viney's attention turned to qualifying for the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games.
Viney has seen her platform since returning to rowing as an opportunity to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention, both of which are extremely important topics to her.
She is also determined to assist in educating the wider community about push for change and education seeing opportunity instead of placing limitations on people with impairments or disabilities. Viney said she recalled some of the wording and stigmas that surrounded it, coupled with her mental health challenges and physical impairments, untrue and dividing.
In March, Viney, who now represents Mercantile Rowing Club in Melbourne, was named in the Australian Rowing Team's PR3 mixed coxed four although final crews for Tokyo will not be nominated until June.
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