With National Volunteer week upon us, we took the opportunity to profile a few volunteers around Australia who are contributing daily to our sport across club administration and officiating.
Jodie Howitt (Vic) and Julie Hargreaves (SA) spend numerous hours weekly volunteering in club administration, while Fiona Brown (WA) and Des Johnston (QLD) officiate at all levels and most recently at the Commonwealth Games. However, Ronda Jenkins (VIC) is in a class of her own, volunteering in administration and as a volunteer at club, state and national level.
Fiona has just returned from her role as a technical official for athletics at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. She had the same role at the 2006 Commonwealth Games after starting out as a Sports Specific Volunteer at the Sydney Olympic and Paralympic Games.
She has been volunteering since she was very young. “My volunteering started when I was a teenager, umpiring netball and I have been volunteering ever since in a variety of capacities in different sports (official, umpire, club administrator, coach, sports trainer). Growing up, living and working in country areas played a role in my interest in volunteering, it’s a great way to be involved in the community and get to know people outside of the work environment.”
As often happens the sport she participated in led her into volunteering. “Volunteering in athletics came about as I transitioned from being an average athlete to becoming an official, initially as a club rostered person to qualified technical official. I have a passion for athletics and this was the way that I was able to stay involved in the sport for a long period of time. Becoming an athletics technical official has been a great learning experience, where I am able to assist athletes to achieve their personal bests at whatever level they compete at.”
The teacher in her ensures she has a passion for assisting the new generation of officials. “I also enjoy working with new and developing officials to encourage their officiating journey to the level they wish to achieve.”
But there are benefits for the long hours of hard work and dedication. “Being an athletics Technical Official in Australia has resulted in the development of life-long friendships and provides the opportunity to travel around the country.”
“When the call goes out for volunteers to join next year's committee, it's easy for us all to find excuses to think no not me...but, then you realise that someone has to...and you think why not? That's what happened to me back in 2004 at an AGM.” And that is where the journey for Julie Hargraves commenced. Her story is typical of how volunteers become involved.
“I had three sons participating in Little Athletics and it was the one thing that we all enjoyed and could do together as a family. So, for the next eight seasons or so, I volunteered on the committee in various roles, co-ordinating memberships, the weekly activities and competitions. Then as the boys grew older, competing in the older age group in athletics, my involvement transferred in 2012 to the Adelaide Harriers Athletics Club, as the club secretary, registrar and organiser.”
It became a team effort with her husband Chris as the President. “Almost six seasons later, the club has grown to over 180 members, with many social runners, an increasing female cohort, as well as elite athletes attending our training groups. I am also an active runner and enjoy the camaraderie and support amongst the wide membership age groups from young teenagers through to our long-term members in their 80's. It's just a big family of runners!”
Des is another to have recently finished up as a Technical Official at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. He had an added special role there, reading the Officials Oath on behalf of all 1100 technical officials at the Opening Ceremony for the Games.
“I guess I'm a typical teacher whose energies were drawn towards assisting those who had a talent to reach their own goals. From my first year in a school, I embraced the challenge of coaching. I was at a Boys' Primary School in Ipswich in 1960 and coached the cricket, hockey and athletics team.”
As a teacher he moved around and worked in administration in various sporting groups. His involvement in athletics commenced in the ‘70s. “I began taking track and field teams from the Inala District to the state championships,” this led on to taking teams to nationals for Des. “I became an accredited athletics official in 1993 and attended my first national championship following my 1997 retirement from teaching,” he then went on to officiate at the Sydney Olympics.
Des has loved his life in athletics. “Athletics is, to those of us who embrace it, the greatest sport of all. For almost sixty years, watching and working with and for athletes has been the love of my life. I have had tremendous opportunities as a small part of the support staff on the world stage.”
Off the field Des is the President of Queensland Athletics. “I continue to work towards the improvement of the sport and work with our athletes to help them reach their aspirational goals.”
There was a final honour for Des last month. “The crowning moment for me was being invited to read the Oath on behalf of all Officials at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. The opportunity to share this moment with Australia's netball coach, Lisa Alexander and one of the greats of lawn bowls, Karen Murphy, was for me an experience I will never forget. I am a proud Australian who has led a fortunate life and been honoured to be involved with many special moments as a result of offering my time and expertise to the sport I love.”
From athlete, to club, state and national administrator, then official too, it is fair to say Ronda Jenkins has done it all and continues to do so. “I began as an athlete, then ventured onto Athletics Victoria committees, did a few team managers jobs, then the natural process was to become an official.”
In between those roles, Ronda worked for her club. “I became the Brunswick Athletic Club’s honorary secretary/treasurer in 1976 and have held that position ever since.”
As an official she has been there for 35 years. “I’ve been the administration manager for Athletics Victoria and Athletics Australia since 1983.”
But what brings her back each year? “The reason for being in the sport for so long is because it is a great sport, I love being involved with all the other officials and being a ‘paper person’ I’m happy when surrounded by paper work. Not sure if administration will dissolve with all the new technology, and I will be ‘filed away.”
Another volunteer at club level, who has also had experience at international level is Jodie Howitt. Assistant secretary at Brunswick Athletics Club for nearly 30 years (since 1989), Jodie was also a Sports Specific Volunteer at the Sydney Olympics and 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
“I volunteer because I love athletics and love being a part of the action, whether it's on the track or behind the scenes.”
Jodie, who still competes, now in masters athletics, officiates with her club and has also completed a coaching course. A real all rounder.
David Tarbotton for Athletics Australia
Image: Ronda Jenkins (centre)