Ross James

by Helen Tompkins

Before the start of his freshman year at Wisconsin, Ross received a recruiting postcard from the crew team. The postcard sparked his interest, claiming that height was an advantage in non-ball sport. Ross and his twin brother, Grant James, were sought out at freshman orientation for their looming height of 6’5″ and broad build.  There were 300 walk-ons at try-outs and it was a self-selecting process. Only 100 guys were left after a week.  Ross, and his brother simply continued to show up the next day for practice.

Ross always sought out new challenges.  Anywhere he could find success by trying harder, he gave all his effort.  His approach to a challenge is to meet it with unrelenting determination.

“I have this problem where I cannot, not, try hard,” says James, “Even though I was terrible at first, I tried hard.”

Though Ross had never touched an oar, he had a determination to do better.

Ross’s rowing career advanced faster than he could realize.  Never dreaming of the Olympics, Ross was on his way.  He credits much of his success to his college coach at Wisconsin, Chris Clark.

“Clark created a system where someone not knowing anything about rowing could develop and do well in the sport.”

Ross tried hard for his Wisconsin teammates, and when the summer came tried hard for the Under 23 guys.  He won gold in the 8+ at the 2008 Under 23 World Championships.  At Wisconsin, he won the varsity eight in the 2008 Eastern Sprints and IRA National Championships.  By graduation, Ross knew he wanted to pursue rowing, but still did not see rowing as “a lifestyle.”  He earned a degree in engineering, and having not applied for a job prior to graduation, he continued to row.  Looking back on the decision to pursue rowing instead of engineering, Ross said, “It could have gone both ways.  I was doing what I was doing in the moment.”

After college, rowing developed into an odd lifestyle for Ross.  “Sleeping on an air mattress, living with six guys and some camping chairs, is not what you might picture for athletes training for the Olympics.”  Ross dabbled in the field of renewable energies while rowing and plans to pursue engineering after his rowing career.  For now he spends his free time playing with nerdy electronic toys.

“A lot of the guys on the (national) team are pretty nerdy,” says Ross.  The guys graduated from legos and are currently working on building a quadcopter.  To Ross, rowing is more about the guys your training with than the training itself.

Ross’s brother, Grant, trains with him on the National Team.  Having his bother as a teammate is an advantage.

They are very competitive with one another for “Twin #1 Status,” achieved by beating the other on the most recent erg test.  Grant currently has the title, however the brothers are usually very close.

Ross and Grant were in the Men’s 8+ for the 2012 London Olympics, a crew that placed fourth.  Since then the administration, support structure, and coaching staff of the Men’s National Team has changed.

“This is the best setup I have had since I started rowing for the national team. Our high performance director Curtis Jordan is taking care of bussness making sure everyone has what they need.  Our coaches Bryan Volpenhein and Luke McGee are doing an outstanding job.  They make a great team and are excellent leaders.  They have also definitely raised the standard for us rowers and we have seen amazing results from it.”

The national team spent the winter training in Princeton and will return to Chula Vista in March, to get time in pairs in preparation for their next race, the National Selection Regatta #1 on April 23.

Ross James Resume:

  • 2013 World Rowing Championships, M8+, Bronze
  • 2013 World Cup #3, M8+, Gold
  • 2012 Olympics, M8+, 4th
  • 2011 World Championships, M8+, 8th
  • 2009 World Championships, M8+, 9th
  • 2008 World Rowing Under 23 Championships, M8+,Gold
Road to the National Team: Olympian Ross James
Road to the National Team: Olympian Ross James
Sparks' Helen Tompkins interviews Rowing Olympian Ross James about his journey from recruit to Olympic team.
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