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Women leading the way

Traditionally Boat Race Officials (BROs) have been a male held role within the sport of rowing, however, this is changing in Australian rowing officialdom and we have a number of females accredited in this sport at varying levels of officiating. We sat down with some of the women who have been volunteering their time and running this year’s 2019 Aon Sydney International Rowing Regatta.

Merran Holmes (NSW) passed her Rowing Australia BRO exam last year; she started umpiring seven years ago when her local regattas were short of umpires. Coming from a rowing background herself, she enjoys staying involved with the sport and says it’s exciting to come to Nationals and get the best view in the house.

Catherine Garrington from Rowing ACT has been involved with coaching, rowing and umpiring for 20 years. She started when she was bored between races at regattas and wanted to fill the time; through umpiring she got a bigger picture and different perspective, she enjoyed it so much she never left! Garrington has progressed through the ranks; she became RA accredited in 2015 and recently obtained her FISA license in Tokyo in October 2018. Garrington said it was a tough exam, but pleased she went through the process.

Leading Garrington and Holmes, and the 32 State and National accredited officials working at the event, is the President of the Jury, Tina Maher. Tasmanian Maher is only the second woman to have held the role at a National event for Australia.

All three women say they want to create the best experience for the rowers at the regattas. They enjoy the interaction with the athletes, parents and supporters and in their work, they try to make the best possible regatta for them to showcase their abilities.

On race day, Garrington enjoys the working in the control commission (athlete and boat weigh-ins, safety checks etc) because of its high level of interaction with the athletes, however when here in Penrith, they all agree that the start tower view is simply spectacular.

“You can find a way to enjoy everything you do, but the start tower here is a lot of fun. Though, I quite enjoy the umpiring – being out on the boat,” admitted Holmes. Garrington agrees, saying, “There is nothing like following the schoolboy and schoolgirls eights – the noise, the atmosphere, the peloton – that is something you don’t get anywhere else in the sport.”

Holmes looks forward to this experience with the Interstate races on Sunday, where they usually experience the biggest pelotons of the regatta. “Being on the water following one of those races is exhilarating,” said the New South Wales local.

When asked whether they get frustrated at athletes forgetting rules, neither of the umpires seemed phased. “I’m happy to repeat rules, but for all the seriousness and competition that they’re here for, I’d like to see them have fun as well. I’d like to hope that as the athletes come here, we see them not only have a good race, but a good time at the regatta and see them smile through the challenges of such a competitive sport,” Garrington said. Holmes agrees and adding, “Just remember that we’re on your side. We’re there to give the athletes the best rowing experience – you can smile and say hi to us, that’s ok and we will smile and say hi back!”

In contrast to Holmes and Garrington, Maher’s journey into officialdom began as a parent of a rower, listening to other parents criticise the current umpires. Maher wanted to get involved and help in the best way she could and so became a judge, working in the finish tower to ensure fair results.

She then progressed on to the water to officiate – which required a boat license. “In the past it has been men that have had their boat license and the natural progression from boat driving to BRO has meant that it has typically been males who have been umpiring,” said Maher. “I made the step into judging, and then got my boat license before becoming an accredited umpire through the various levels.”

Maher was nominated by Rowing Australia to the National Officiating Scholarship to help her take on the role as President of the Jury for national events. The President of the Jury is responsible for controlling all on water activity during competition time. She oversees a team of 32 nationally or state accredited officials to help run the on water and competition side of the event and “provide the best environment for athletes to excel.”

As new volunteers and umpires are needed by all parts of the association, we asked the ladies what they thought the best advice would be for someone to get involved. Holmes suggests, “If you’re interested or just want to know a bit more about it, have a chat to one of the umpires – they can put you in touch with the right people.” Garrington is sure if you turn up to a local control tower on race day to offer your services, you will be put to work – “There’s always something to do!”