STAGING British Rowing Awards: Thames Volunteer of the Year winners - British Rowing

British Rowing Awards: Thames Volunteer of the Year winners

We share the citations of the regional winners from the Thames region, with national winners to be announced in a live webcast on 20 January


We’ve had a huge number of nominations for British Rowing Awards from clubs up and down the country, so it’s been a tough job for our judging panels to narrow them all down to this year’s shortlist. Thank you to everyone who made a nomination and congratulations to the volunteers, coaches, clubs, crews and other rowers who have been selected.

Three members of the Thames region have won regional awards and are now shortlisted for national awards. They are:

  • Grant “Ralphie” Ralph, London Otters – Vol of the Year
  • Eleanor Stevens, Uni of Surrey BC – Rising Star of the Year
  • Jim Mathieson, Burway RC – Lifetime Achievement Award

Thanks to everyone for all their hard work!

Grant “Ralphie” Ralph, London Otters – Volunteer of the Year regional winner

The British Rowing Volunteer of the Year is for people who have contributed significantly to their sport in 2021, for the benefit of the wider rowing community.

The citation reads…

“A rowing club, especially one like the London Otters, is not merely a collection of boats, blades and blisters; it is a family. Grant “Ralphie” Ralph, who co-founded the Otters in 2014 and remains a driving force behind the thriving club it is today, embodies this spirit and is our deserving nominee for Volunteer of the Year 2021.

“As lead coach of our ‘Otterpups’ Learn to Row courses, Ralphie has introduced hundreds of new rowers to the sport over the years. The 23rd Otterpups course was underway when lockdown struck, and it was Ralphie’s motivation, encouragement and tenacity that saw them through to the finish line 14 months from when they started, despite the challenges of the pandemic. This summer, two further courses have taken place, taking 32 more beginners who couldn’t tell a rigger from a bow ball to the point where they scull and sweep as part of the club’s novice squad.

“On the water, Ralphie motivates and challenges every rower to achieve their best, whatever their fitness level or experience. It is a testament to the quality of the course, and to Ralphie’s commitment to helping all club members develop within rowing, that some of the other coaches were themselves novices in recent courses, working together with more experienced members of the club.

“At many clubs it is hard for new members to integrate, but Ralphie’s commitment to introducing the pups to established members, looking out for their progress after the course, and advocating for them to the squad captains and coaches means that the Otters have been able to grow rapidly as a club without losing a meaningful sense of community and belonging.

“Ralphie is one of the people who can always be turned to when something needs fixing or a boat needs coxing. A formidable rower himself, Ralphie regularly represents the club at competitions, and is one of our loudest cheerleaders when any Otters boat is racing.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the London Otters would not be what they are today, and would not be emerging from the pandemic in such good shape, without Ralphie’s positivity, dedication and commitment to building, not just a club, but a community.

“He exemplifies our core values, is beloved among our members and richly deserves the title of Volunteer of the Year.”

Eleanor Stevens, University of Surrey BC – Rising Star of the Year regional winner

The Rising Star of the Year award is for young volunteers who have made an exceptional contribution to their sport and the wider community. All five regional winners are a credit to their clubs and community, including Eleanor Stevens.

Eleanor is University of Surrey BC (USBC) through and through. From taking her first ever stroke as a beginner in 2014 she has since gone on to be the president of the club, race for England and take a pivotal role in leading the boat club’s beginner programme to national success.

Her citation continues: “Whilst president of the club Eleanor helped guide the club to new heights. She raised funds to buy the club a women’s eight, raised the profile of the sport within the university, and drove the club forwards on an off the water.

“Her efforts  were acknowledged by the university, and she was awarded the Team Surrey Trophy for ‘Outstanding Commitment to your Club and Sporting Performance’.”

Eleanor spent her first year out of university volunteering as the programme’s Beginner Coach. Despite this being Eleanor’s first year of coaching, she was able to organise, motivate and inspire the athletes to a record-breaking level. In the 2018-19 season USBC won four BUCS gold medals in the beginner categories. Surrey also won the Academic Beginner pennant at HORR and four rowers from the crew qualified to race at Henley Royal Regatta.

Eleanor’s great work did not go unnoticed, and she was invited as a coach to the England Talent Pathway Camp.

Last season, despite having a job in accounting, Eleanor gave up her weekends leading into BUCS Regatta and took annual leave to help with the beginners again. Her help paid off as she was able to help guide the athletes to win two gold medals and a silver.

Eleanor set up an alumni boat club – Aurum 1947 – which she hopes will provide a pathway for graduates to stay involved in the sport. She also acts as mentor to the boat club’s new presidents, frequently providing them with advice and lessons that she learnt in the role.

Her citation finishes: “For the past five years USBC have been lucky to have Eleanor as an athlete, president and coach. She is a credit to our sport, and we look forward to the next five years!”

Jim Mathieson, Burway RC – Lifetime Achievement Award regional winner

Seven exceptional volunteers will receive the British Rowing Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021, including Jim Mathieson, who has been nominated by the Thames region for his incredible dedication to the sport.

The Lifetime Achievement Award has had an illustrious list of winners over the years and this year is no different. The award recognises a lifetime of achievement and dedication to the sport of rowing.

Read on to find out how Jim has made a huge impact on his club, region and the wider community.

Jim Mathieson epitomises the best of grass roots rowing. A long-serving volunteer coach, secretary, guarantor and twice captain, Jim has dedicated his life to Burway Rowing Club. He has coached multiple generations of family members, a testament to his longevity and enduring zest for the sport. Over decades, he has helped guide and support junior athletes through some of the most challenging stages in their lives.

Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Tom Barras pays tribute to the huge impact that Jim has had on his own career, sharing how he first came to the sport as a junior below.

“He once re-opened the locked clubhouse to show a ten-year-old me around after training, and from that moment I was hooked. Every session since then he made me want to return to the club; not just for the sport, but also for him and his enthusiasm.

“This was not the only time Jim opened those locked Burway gates for me. During lockdown he was there, once again, to lend the training equipment that would allow me to prepare for the Olympic Games. He has had such a marked impact on my career and without him I would certainly not have won a silver medal in Tokyo, in fact I probably wouldn’t still be in the sport at all.

“Jim goes above and beyond for all his junior members; rewriting programmes to fit in with exams and coaching on non-training days to help fit in with their studies. He even missed his granddaughter’s birth to attend the Nottingham Junior Final Trials!

“Off the water, he is always willing to act as a sounding board for any stresses or problems any junior rower may have. This is something that goes above and beyond his duty of care.

It is exceptional for an unpaid coach of such a small club with a tight budget to produce multiple athletes capable of earning GB vests, winning National Championships and qualifying for Henley Royal Regatta. It is even more incredible when this has been achieved over multiple years and generations of athletes.

“He is an inspiration to me and countless others, and I believe him truly deserving of this British Rowing Lifetime Achievement Award. As Burway Rowing Club celebrates its centurion year in 2021, it feels only fitting to recognise the club’s greatest servant.”

The Thames regional chair said: “Jim has dedicated his life Burway Rowing Club which celebrates its centurion year in 2021.

“Jim has been – and continues to be – an inspiration to countless others and his infectious love for the sport evident, whether along the riverbank supporting the young competitors or simply encouraging a new rower along their first experiences in the sport.”