Rupert Guinness at Champion Lakes Regatta Centre
Anyone who sees Tara Rigney competing in the Single Scull would think that she has pursued rowing all her sporting life; she personifies grace, power and speed in a slick racing shell.
Understandably, Rigney’s ambition is to one day become a World Rowing Championships and/or Olympic Single Sculls champion like Australian great Kim Brennan AM, who won world Gold in 2013 and 2015 and Olympic Gold in Rio in 2016.
But how Rigney, the 2022 World Championships Single Scull Bronze Medallist and 2021 Olympian in the Double Scull with Amanda Bateman, came from athletics and then netball to commit to rowing is a stroke of fortune – or misfortune – depending on how you look at things.
Rigney had rowed at school but was a rising star in the netball scene, playing for North Shore United in the Premier League and dreaming of becoming a NSW Swifts and Australian Diamonds representative. But then, for the second time, she ruptured the ACL in her left knee, the injury sidelining her 12 months right after she had just completed an initial gruelling rehab from the same injury.
“I was playing for the Under 19 state team in 2016 and 2017. Both times I ruptured my ACL,” Rigney said on Tuesday during day two of the Australian Rowing Championships at Champion Lakes at the City of Armadale, near Perth, WA.
“The first time I did my ACL, I couldn’t play netball for 12 months. By the time 12 months had come around, it was time to trial again for the team. So, I tried again for the team and was selected. I played four weeks. Then on a training session, I ruptured my ACL the same way for a second time.”
“There was a lot of soul searching. That, in the end, made me go to rowing.”Tara Rigney
The news from surgeons was grim in terms of her sporting exploits. Rigney was told to take at least two years to regain enough muscular support around her knee to safeguard her from yet another cruciate ligament crisis.
But Rigney was nothing if not motivated. She was determined to get back on the netball court and be better than ever. Then a meeting with her former school rowing coach set her on a path to a new competitive avenue.
“About six months post-surgery, [Sydney University rowing coach] Alfie Young had remembered me from school. I hadn’t rowed for about three years. He reached out and asked: ‘Do you want to come down and try rowing at Sydney University?’ I was like ‘this will be a really good way to keep my fitness up for netball’,” Rigney said.
“I went down and hopped in the Single Scull. I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed rowing at school but more because of the friendships. I didn’t have the passion I have now for the sport. As soon as I jumped in Single, I thought ‘this is awesome’.
Rigney attended an Under 23 training camp in January 2019 and one of the sweep squad sustained an injury. She ‘hopped in a Pair’ to fill a gap and managed to get herself selected on the national team.
“So that was my initial segue into rowing. After that, I thought to myself: ‘I think I’d be better than this than netball, so I’ll stick with the rowing’.”
But Rigney does not underplay the impact of her injuries on that decision. As she said: “The rehab was a lot more than rehabbing my knee and body. It was almost an identity crisis, like, ‘Who am I outside of the sport?’
“There was a lot of soul searching. That, in the end, made me go to rowing.”