Saturday, 24 August 2019

‘Lady’ in need of better luck

‘Lady’ in need of better luck

KATHERINE DOUGLAS admits she’d never heard of rowing before going to university.

But in the 10 years since joining Oxford Brookes she has not only won at Henley Royal Regatta but has also been part of the Great Britain squad.

She is not competing at Henley Royal Regtta this year due as she is taking a short break following a recurrence of a health problem. Instead, she is commentating on the action with Olympic medallists Greg Searle and Sarah Winckless.

But she’s still determined to enjoy the occasion.

“It’s just a great week,” says Douglas, who lives in Deanfield Avenue, Henley. “The whole place is just buzzing — this is the start of summer racing and the start of summer.”

Her Henley victory came in 2013 when she was part of a Leander and Oxford Brookes eight that won the Remenham Challenge Cup.

But she hadn’t even been in the boat at the start of the week.

Douglas explains: “I was a spare and wasn’t supposed to be racing. I went to Mahiki almost every night that week and thought, ‘I might as well enjoy the regatta’. I got a phone call at 7am on finals day saying one of the girls was ill. My eyes were bloodshot and I had a cap and sunglasses on. They said, ‘What the hell? We rely on you and if we lose this, it is on you’ but we didn’t lose, thank God!”

Douglas, 29, was born and bred in Edinburgh, the daughter of Stewart and Amanda Douglas, the Earl and Countess of Moreton.

In the programme for the royal regatta she goes by her official title, Lady Katherine Douglas.

“It’s just a bit of fun,” she says. “I was ‘the honourable’ until 2016 when my grandfather died and all the titles moved down. I think a long time ago our ancestors must have done something good for a king.”

She and her siblings John, 33, and Jenny, 28, are in fact distant relatives of Sir James Douglas, known as the Black Douglas, one of commanders during the wars of Scottish independence, who died in 1330.

Douglas, who boarded at Fettes College in Edinburgh, took up athletics when she was about 12 and competed at the Scottish School Championships as well as representing Edinburgh Athletics Club.

Her rivals included Lynsey Sharp who went on to be 800m champion at the 2012 European Championships and represented Great Britain at the London Olympics the same year.

“I beat her once,” says Douglas proudly.

In 2009, she came south to study geography and anthropology at Oxford Brookes and her parents encouraged her take up as many extra-curricular activities as possible.

Douglas recalls: “I’d never heard of rowing until I went to university. I remember this very good- looking guy coming up to me and saying, ‘You’re a big girl, you deserve to be in a boat somewhere’. I thought, ‘Rude, but nice chat up line, I’ll take it!’” At first she only did a couple of rowing sessions a week as she preferred playing hockey with her friends.

However, her student lifestyle was not conducive to making the best of her sporting ability.

“I put on a lot of weight,” says Douglas. “You don’t eat very healthily and you’re going out the whole time. I thought, ‘I need to get back into my sport’.”

It was rowing that gave her that opportunity.

Douglas says: “I went every Tuesday and got a kick out of it so I kept on going and they said, ‘You could be really good if you took this seriously’ so I started going most days.”

She says that rowing gave her the same structure that she had at school but her enthusiasm for the sport affected her academic work.

Douglas says: “In the third year I missed an exam because I was rowing so I stayed an extra semester to do that exam.”

However, the hard work paid off and in 2010 she won the championship women’s fours at the British Universities & Colleges Sport Regatta and elite fours at Henley Women’s Regatta. She also qualified for the European University Sports Association’s rowing championship in Amsterdam where her crew won gold in the coxless fours.

Her first international event came in 2011 when she was in the women’s eight that finished fifth at the World Rowing U23 Championships in Amsterdam.

At university her best friend was Olivia Carnegie-Brown, who went on to win a silver medal in the women’s eight at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and the pair lived and rowed together. In 2012, they were both invited to a GB training camp in Sierra Nevada in Spain — the first time women had been involved.

However, at the camp Douglas experienced shooting pains down her leg and had to take time off from rowing and she lost the chance to take part in the London Olympics.

She then joined Leander Club under the guidance of coach Jane Hall and by April 2013 she had broken into the GB senior team.

As well as her victory at Henley that year, she raced in a GB quadruple scull at the second World Cup event at Eton Dorney, finishing fourth. She was also a spare for the women’s squad taking part in the World Rowing Championships in Korea.

Then her pains returned but this time she didn’t tell anyone as she didn’t want to interrupt her rowing career again. It was a mistake as her leg gave way completely while she was playing table tennis.

Douglas recalls: “I went to the physio and she said, ‘You idiot — if you’d left it another couple of weeks you could be in a wheelchair by 30. As a result of the injury I was let go from the GB team.”

A lengthy period of rehabilitation followed.

Douglas says: “I started off just walking and managing to do a bit each day and that turned into swimming and lots of rehabilitation exercises. I couldn’t sit for more than 10 minutes without my left bum cheek going completely numb. I’d go to the cinema with my friends and I’d end up lying in the aisle to watch the film. It got to the point where I thought, ‘is this really worth it?’ Leander supported me quite a lot and Jane Hall was a big part of that.”

Gradually, she started to row again and was fit enough by the summer of 2014 to compete in the Commonwealth Rowing Championships at Strathclyde Country Park.

She won the quadruple sculls with Rebecca Lightfoot, Emma McDonald and Karen Bennett. She and Bennett also won gold together in the women’s pairs and silver in the double sculls.

In 2015, the pair competed at the Team GB trials but Douglas so wasn’t considered for selection.

“They took Karen and I got taken back to Leander,” she says. “I thought ‘what the hell’s the point?’ I didn’t think I was going to ever get back in.”

She trained hard all summer 2015 but failed to make the GB team for the Rio Olympics the next year.

Then in September 2016 she suffered concussion when she was involved in a car crash in Shiplake.

Her luck changed in 2017 when she returned to the GB senior squad and was in the women’s eight that won silver and bronze in the World Cup series as well as finishing fifth at the World Rowing Championships in Florida.

In 2018 she was in the eight that won silver at the European Championships in Glasgow and came sixth at the World Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

This year, she has experienced more setbacks and is currently taking time off.

“It has been a funny year and I haven’t felt quite right,” she says. “In April I didn’t have a very good trial and got my bloods and was diagnosed with unexplained underperformance syndrome.”

Even so, Douglas still has her sights set on the Olympic Games in Japan next year.

“The ultimate goal is to row in Tokyo,” she says. “I’ve got to build back up and it’s a race against time to make it. To be the best and represent your country at the Games would be awesome.

“For three years I really struggled to get back into the team through injury so if I don’t make it I’ll be absolutely gutted because I’ve given up a lot and I’m definitely good enough to be there.”

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