Posted: June 26, 2017
During Women in Sport Week we took a look at some of the amazing women who make a significant contribution to rowing in Scotland. Here is a roundup of who we spoke to and what they had to say.
Former junior Scotland rowing competitor, Erin Wyness, who in her role as President at Robert Gordon University (RGU) Boat Club is doing impressive work bringing together student rowers under the University Rowing Aberdeen programme.
“I had been the captain at my school’s club, which was a hands on role and when I went to university I stepped into the president’s role,” said 20-year-old Erin.
“At the time the role was fairly redundant and there wasn’t really much going on in the committees at the clubs. I just wanted to develop the club to be something so I took it on and have been doing it ever since.”
Working with the club committees, and with business planning support from Scottish Rowing, Erin reignited an existing university rowing project in Aberdeen to get the University of Aberdeen and RGU’s rowing programmes working together.
The results have been fairly dramatic. Rowing membership numbers at RGU alone have risen from 20 members in 2013 to 80.
One student, Lewis McCue has competed for GB for each of the 4 years studying in Aberdeen, whilst Fiona Bell, who had only rowed for a year before starting university and has benefitted hugely from the Aberdeen programme, trialled for the GB under 23 team this season with hope for selection next month.
The programme works hard to increase its volunteer and coaching numbers and will be putting a new wave of students through coach education courses this summer in readiness for heightened rowing interest when the term begins in September.
“I’m literally involved in rowing all day every day and don’t know what I would do without it,” said Erin.
“Rowing is a great sport you can do at any age. It gives back so much because you meet so many people, it is so varied, there are always new challenges and always something else so there’s always something to look forward to.
“Rowing is a passion and I hope to be involved in it in some capacity for the rest of my life.”
Castle Semple Rowing Club has experienced a boom in numbers since it capitalised on rowing interest from the London 2012 Games.
The surge in its youth numbers, and its current junior membership of 60, could not have happened without the club’s volunteers, in particular its head junior coach, Lesley Afuakwah, who spends the majority of her week engaged in a variety of activities at the club.
“Sport is a huge part of my life because of the amount of hours I put into working with the kids at the rowing club,” said Lesley.
“Being the head junior coach involves a lot of organisation including management, coaching, maintaining communications with everybody and driving the trailer to all the regattas.”
You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a full time position for Lesley. But that’s certainly not the case and, as she explains, there are far bigger rewards to being a volunteer.
“I describe it as my job even though I’m a volunteer...and I love it,” she continued.
“I’m naturally competitive and I’d probably rather being doing the sport myself, but I recognise I’m probably better at coaching than I am at rowing.
“I get a buzz out of seeing kids taking up something new and learning. I’m constantly amazed at how much they commit to rowing.
“I love having a club and love having a really good ethos where the kids all get on really well with each other. And I do like the wider part of it that they all learn to work as part of a team. They learn a discipline.”
Selkirk’s Maddie Arlett, an outstanding example of an athlete coming through the Scottish system, and a perfect role model for other young aspiring female athletes.
This spring the 22-year-old Edinburgh University Boat Club athlete was selected for Great Britain’s senior rowing team competing in the opening World Cup of the season at Belgrade.
She recently won the elite lightweight single scull at Henley Women’s Regatta.
“It's a lifestyle and a huge amount of commitment goes into making it work but it is very rewarding and I wouldn't change it,” said Maddie, who only took up rowing when she began university.
“It gives me an avenue to channel all my energy and drive into and gives me routine and a purpose to everyday.
“Rowing has given me so many opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and grow as an individual.
“I have met and learnt from some of the most amazing people in the sport and it has given me the most amazing experiences.
“As well as this it has given me the opportunity to further my education which may have not been possible without help from the University.”
Running a major regatta like this month’s Scottish Rowing Championships requires a small army of capable and willing volunteer staff.
Recruiting and retaining these invaluable people is a year round task for Lindsey Vyse, Volunteer Co-Ordinator on Scottish Rowing’s Domestic Regatta Organising Committee.
“It’s a challenging role because most of the people who I can work with are also on the water or coaching,” said Lindsey, a member of Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association.
“So I have to juggle them in and out of my schedule so we can make sure the regatta runs properly.”
Lindsey has to perform her own balancing act, fitting in her voluntary rowing role around working towards a PhD. But, as she has discovered, the two complement each other and through rowing she stays connected with her friends and family.
“Volunteering is good for me, it’s a way out of my normal working life and it gives me a nice break from it,” she explains.
“My son is involved in rowing and I’ve found it a great way to stay connected to him, and at the same time I’ve made a huge number of friends through it.
“And it adds another element to my life that I wouldn’t normally have. I might not necessarily be participating in the sport but I am participating in the whole rowing community.”
Lindsey has also discovered that spending time volunteering at rowing regattas has a rejuvenating effect when she returns to her studies: “Sometimes if you are immersed in doing a PhD you don’t gain enough perspective of what you are doing.
“So after taking a few days off to do something else, I come back to my own work and often have a fresher take on it.”
Lindsey is constantly on the search for new volunteers and, as she points out, there are many benefits to getting involved, particularly for women.
“A lot of the volunteers we have are mums of athletes,” she said. “They often end up fulfilling roles they wouldn’t have expected to, and taking on a lot of responsibility which perhaps they wouldn’t have had the confidence to if it hadn’t been for their child being involved in the sport.”
Today we hear from Amanda Cobb about how she became Scottish Rowing’s Chief Operating Officer, how the sport is working hard to become fully inclusive and what the opportunities are like for women to take up leadership roles in sport.
As a university student, Amanda rowed and coached before her career took her along a different path as a successful chartered accountant working for blue chip companies in London.
But nine years ago things came full circle when Amanda returned to rowing as a volunteer club coach in Glasgow, a move which eventually led to her becoming Scottish Rowing’s first Chief Operating Officer.
“Sport has always been a big part of my life and I got to a point in my career where I started to hold the view that sport, health and fitness was where I wanted to be,” explained Amanda.
“So, whilst taking time out from full-time employment to start a family, I did a Masters degree in sport science, worked as a personal trainer and returned to the sport as a volunteer rowing coach.
“In 2010 a development role with Scottish Rowing came up and I applied on spec, and to my great surprise I got the job.
“Then, when the COO role came up in 2013, I applied and was delighted to be successful.”
Much has changed at Scottish Rowing since 2010 when the organisation consisted of Amanda, an office administrator and an all-male board. The sport is achieving more success across the range from development, events and high performance.
Its workforce now consists of eight staff, four of whom are female, and three women have positions on its seven-strong board.
“Rowing is an ambitious sport that sets high expectations and we are at a stage where we have pretty big plans,” said Amanda.
“We recognise that Scottish Rowing is a 50-50 sport in terms of participant gender mix, so an all male board was not reflective of the participation mix and there has been a desire to take positive action.
“Half of our staff are female and we have a number of female volunteers in key roles in clubs and central committees and as umpires. And we've got a female director of performance, which is a significant step for the sport, but reflective of the fact that four Scottish women won Olympic medals at Rio in 2016.”
Working full time in sport gives Amanda a good perspective of just how many women are involved in sport and what the opportunities are like for others to take up similar leadership roles.
“I see a lot of women working in sport in Scotland and there are some great women in leadership positions,” she continued.
“But if you look at the number of women in the grass roots roles there is still more to do to support their progression into leadership. I don’t have the answer but if they are ambitious, enthusiastic and committed then I would encourage them to have the confidence to go for it.”
Whilst her own route from volunteer coach to COO might not have been completely planned there is no doubt in Amanda’s mind that she has landed the perfect role in sport.
“After graduating I probably didn't even know a job like this existed, and it was never something I had thought about,” she said. “But I genuinely believe I am really privileged to have this job.
“We've got some amazing people in the sport out in the clubs who genuinely want the best for their club and the sport.
“In sport you see the examples of how it can change peoples' lives and inspire them to achieve things they probably didn't think were possible. And being able to play a small part in that is hugely rewarding.
“I love the job and I'm very happy to be here.”
Rowing features heavily in the life of Carol Wallace’s who describes her whole family as “sport-orientated.”
Multi tasking seems to come naturally to the Aberdeen Boat Club member who is a volunteer umpire, commentator, regatta organiser as well as a rowing competitor.
“I do a bit of everything,” said Carol at this month’s Scottish Rowing Championships shortly before swapping her umpire role for a place in the women’s eight.
“I’ve always loved the sport and I’ve been involved in rowing since university days
“It’s a brilliant sport for bringing people together. You make friends through rowing that stick with you all through your life and there’s a great camaraderie.
Rowing, she explains, has that rare mix of intense competition plus a strong, almost family bond between competitors: “It’s a small sport and people tend to know each other. It’s very competitive on the water but off the water we all help each other.
“You get great days where you see fantastic racing and it’s good fun, you get others where the weather gods are against you.
“It’s us and the sport trying to deliver a meaningful event that means something to people against all odds.
“And people just work together to deliver that. So the good things give you a buzz and the not so good things can also give you a buzz.”
When the opportunity arose for Mel Platten to become Nithsdale Amateur Rowing Club’s second-only female captain, it did not take long for the NHS clinical psychologist to see this as a challenge worth grasping.
“We’ve only ever had one other female captain in our 150 years, so I decided it was about time to have another one,” said Mel, who only took up rowing five years ago from a lifetime's involvement in dancing.
There’s a lot happening at the Dumfries-based club.
Funding bids to renovate the club house have been submitted (by previous Captain, Mark Buchanan and, Gillian Brydson, who replaced Mel as Club Secretary and is referred to by Mel as her “right hand woman”) and approaches are being made to the local schools to get more children rowing.
Plans are also afoot to encourage youngsters from the local college to become volunteer rowing coaches.
Finding a female to join the club's current band of all-male coaching band is a personal mission for Mel, before she retires from post.
"Our coaches are all fantastically helpful with our members and they take into account each individual’s needs but it would be really nice to have more of a female influence," said Mel, who modestly describes her captain's role as overseeing the running of the club, keeping the coaches happy and ensuring policies and procedures are kept updated.
Though undoubtedly a leading skill is a natural empathy, which makes her a highly approachable figure at the club.
"I believe there's a fundamental difference between women and men coaches as I think our junior girls respond differently to male and female role models and it’s good to have a mixture of both,” continued Mel.
"Our club has always been male dominated and I want to give our girls the idea that they don’t have to just be the secretary or a rower, they could also be a coach and a leader."
Any girl, or for that matter, any woman, lucky enough to find herself at Nithsdale ARC will - in Mel - have a perfect role model for what rowing and sport in general can do for you.
"I get a real rush from feeling fit and active and the energy that gives me," said Mel, who has tried racing but gets more satisfaction from the recreational side of the sport.
"You don’t have to conform to all the models in the magazines. You can be strong and be an athlete. You might look different but it’s actually better and healthier and it feels really good."
And having been a ballet and tap dancer in her previous life, just how do the two compare?
"The thing I get from rowing which I didn’t get from dancing is more the sense of being part of a team and getting through it together.
“Like training and having to put up with each others’ moods and going out in that boat when you really don’t want to.
“And not having the best row but the team being there to support you, then being able to celebrate the times when it does go well.
"It’s an amazing feeling and I think it’s so important to have that opportunity to experience that in your life aside from school, work, chores and everything else you do as an adult or a teenager."