Above: Under Pressure - Senior men race, Union Hall
For the past two months teams from coastal rowing clubs have flung themselves into the waves of the West Cork coast, braving scorching heat waves and stormy waters in an effort to be crowned South West champions.
Ruairi Coughlan sits down with June McCarthy, chairperson of the South West Coast Yawl Rowing Association (SWCYRA) and an avid rower, and finds that June shares the same emotions as every other rower taking part in the championship — tired, but extremely happy.
June McCarthy hasn’t been rowing her entire life, quite the opposite in fact. Hailing from the Dunmanway area, she doesn’t come from a family of rowers. “There’s none at all in my family,” she says. “As a child, I was hugely involved in Irish step-dancing, but that was it”.
In fact June didn’t start rowing until after finishing college and later moving to the Clonakilty area. “I was interested in getting to know people and was persuaded to come along to Ring Rowing Club by a friend of mine,” she recounts. “I had to be talked into it, I was nervous I couldn’t do it.”
So what was it that attracted June to rowing. “It was accessible,” she explains, “I was able to start immediately and I made a great new group of friends.”
June believes the reason rowing attracts so many people is that it’s a fantastic sport for fitness, as well as a social outlet. “It really is a unique sport. You see parents and children comparing notes, people of all ages can row. It really transcends barriers.”
In relation to the championship, June explains the nature of the rivalries between the clubs and teams. “There is a healthy rivalry, people enjoy pitting their strength,” she explains. “But it is not just the teams pitting themselves against one another but against the environment, so they all have something in common. You’d see them after the race sharing stories about how bad the tide was and things like that.”
As chairperson of the SWCYRA, June helps organise regattas with host clubs so that they can all compete under one standard. “I also help represent South West clubs at a national level. It is a huge amount of work the association does and everybody is doing this on a voluntary basis,” she explains. “We run the championship, try to promote rowing and help train the trainers, for instance we have a seminar on nutrition coming up this week.”
When it comes to motivation, it’s the people involved in the sport that keep June going. “It’s the different personalities you meet,” she says smiling. “Also it’s fantastic to see a child’s development throughout a season and the new friends they meet.”
June also has hopes for the future of the sport. “My main hope in the short term and medium term is to grow membership, especially further west along the coast. I hope that in the long term people will volunteer more to help local clubs.”
June advises anyone thinking of joing a rowing club…not to overthink it. “You could start as a total beginner but find you are quite brilliant at rowing and, of course, you’ll get fit and make a huge new circle of friends. Just have a go.”
For more information about SWCYRA and local rowing clubs near you visit the associations website, https://sites.google.com/site/swcyra/.