After volunteering at his club, Henley rower Joe Zolkwer also helped out at the Race the Thames event last month. Warren Muggleton finds out more
It takes a lot of work to get crews to the start line of a rowing regatta – and it is all down to volunteers.
Amazing people across the country put in hours of their spare time to umpire races, safeguard events, marshal crews and even get the hot dogs ready!
One young man to join the ranks is Joe Zolkwer, 21, who found his way into rowing thanks to volunteers.
He said: “I moved to Henley aged 10 – it would have been rude not to row there with such rich traditions!”
Joe represented the club at junior level for three years, winning bronze in the J15 coxed fours at the 2015 National Schools Regatta (NSR).
Going on to win gold the following year in the J16 coxed fours at Wallingford Regatta, the Henley junior rower wanted to return the favour.
And the opportunity came with the club’s learn to row programme.
“Joe would take a different approach, getting in the boat with the trainees to offer tips from the best vantage point”
“I’ve always enjoyed helping others succeed,” Joe said, as he talked about coaching over the summers at Henley in 2015 and 2016.
“It was something I was passionate about. I was always taught by volunteers, so it was nice to give back.
“Coaching came quite naturally because I do enjoy helping people and it was part of the journey I remember being on. It was special!”
Joe would take a different approach, getting in the boat with the trainees to offer tips from the best vantage point.
“You feel like you’re with them as opposed to shouting from the bank,” he added.
The courses would see the week end in a mini-regatta, providing an opportunity to see how Joe’s voluntary coaching had impacted the youngsters.
He said: “It was really special seeing where they’d come from and being able to race a boat.
“It’s then even better to actually see them at the club, signed up and full members, so it’s very rewarding.”
Joe continued rowing for Shiplake College in sixth form, winning silver medals at NSR and Wallingford in 2017, before taking on a BSc in Sports Business and Marketing at the University of Winchester.
In the final year of his course, he received an opportunity to join the Junior Inter-Regional Regatta organising committee – the same event he raced in seven years ago for Henley.
While COVID-19 has put paid to the event for the last two years, it did provide Joe with an opportunity at Race the Thames.
Joe explained: “I helped the team with safeguarding and results checking. It was good fun and nice to be part of such a great event!”
Running from 22 March to 29 March online, teams of eight maximum raced either the “Tidal” Thames [72km] or the “River” Thames [a whopping 346km].
The event saw 183 teams race from around the world on their rowing machines, raising £113,000 for 40 charities.
As the rowers sweated to get across the finish line, volunteers such as Joe were sweating to make sure the week ran smoothly.
He said: “I was safeguarding, so I would log in to the Zoom meetings and make sure everyone was okay.
“If anyone was struggling, I would elevate that up – fortunately that didn’t happen!
“There was also this big spreadsheet where racers would put their data, so I had to go through and check the decimals were in the right place.”
While there were some early starts for Joe to fit in the event around his degree, he relished the unique volunteering opportunity.
He said: “It made me realise how there were so many small cogs that need to be in place for the event to work.
“As a racer, you’d just race up the river for 2,000m. You think it’s simple, but it isn’t – it’s volunteers that make it work.”
While volunteering has allowed Joe to continue giving back to the rowing community, it has also handed him key career skills.
“I got to meet Andrew Triggs Hodge, which was a fan-boy moment for me!”
The 21-year-old said: “You get networking through speaking to people, this conversation right now stemmed from volunteering!
“I’m also more aware of the event world, behind the scenes of it. I wouldn’t have been able to get that without volunteering.
“It’s fuelled by passion of wanting to help people succeed. Through Henley, I’ve gone on to complete my personal training qualification as it was another route to help people achieve goals.”
So, the big question… would Joe recommend volunteering?
An emphatic reply over the Zoom call answers: “100 per-cent yes!
“I got to meet Andrew Triggs Hodge, which was a fan-boy moment for me!
“For me, it’s been a huge part of me growing up and it’s all thanks to volunteers in the British Rowing system.
“It’s important to give back as they helped me back in the day get into the sport and enjoy it.
“The benefits from volunteering are endless!”
If you would like to find out more about getting involved, then head to our volunteering page here.