Jackie Prout

Year 1987 World Championships (8o 9th)
Clubs Henley RC, Sons of the Thames RC, Lea RC, Kingston RC, Molesey BC, Walton RC
Height 6’½” or 185 cm
Racing weight 12 stone 6 lb or 79 kg
Born 1963

Jackie’s on the left of the photo at the top of this page of her and Fiona Freckleton winning at Henley Women’s Regatta in 1990. (Photo: Fiona Watson’s personal collection.)

Getting into rowing

Jackie grew up with an awareness that rowing existed from watching the Boat Race on TV, but only first thought about it as something she might do herself when she saw an interview with the Oxford coach Dan Topolski, who also coached the GB women in 1979 and 1980, when he mentioned that the team needed tall women. Being a tall teenager, she says, “That obviously sowed a seed. However, I did absolutely nothing about it!”

When she moved to Henley a few years later, she happened to mention being interested in trying rowing while out for an evening walk one day with her family. “We were passing the old Henley RC at the time, and the next thing I knew my stepfather had run across the road and gone in to the club find out about it. So I went along for a summer there and rowed with some schoolgirls because they were the only other women at the club then, but I only did one race because I was at college in Plymouth in the autumn.” By the time she’d finished her studies in 1984, her family had moved to London, so Jackie joined Sons of the Thames RC. “I didn’t know what clubs there were, so I just rang up the Amateur Rowing Association to ask them where to go. the woman I spoke to had just started rowing at Sons, and she told me to go there too, so that was the sole reason for my choice!,” she remembers.

She won her novices in a coxed four at Stourport regatta that summer, followed by a string of wins the following season.

International career

Jackie and some clubmates went to watch the 1985 World Championships in Hazewinkel, not least to support Lin Clark and Beryl Crockford who had joined Sons that year and won their historic gold medal in the lightweight doubles. “After talking to some of the openweight women who were racing there, and realising I was the same size as them, I decided I ought to try and get into the GB squad,” she says. She teamed up with 1984 Olympian Ruth Howe, who had taken the 1985 season off. The pair trained out of Lea RC where they were coached by Eddie Wells, even though both of them lived in west London. In a pattern that was all too familiar to international rowers in this pre-funding era, this involved a lot of travelling. “In the morning I used to go and pick Ruth up from Fulham, drive to the Lea, go rowing, drive to Vauxhall where I was working, drive back to the Lea for evening training, and then back home,” she recalls. “My mum used to say, ‘I know Jackie’s around because the pile of food in the fridge is decreasing and the pile of washing in the room is increasing,’ but they never saw me.”

Jackie and Ruth entered various British and international events to try and beat the official squad pair of Pauline Bird and Flo Johnston. Although unsuccessful in this quest, they were ‘selected’ as the non-travelling spares for the 1986 World Championships in Nottingham. They also won the National Championships, which the GB pair didn’t enter, finishing nearly 19 seconds ahead of Fiona Freckleton and Morag Simpson who represented Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow the following week. “The guy presenting the medals asked us if we’d qualify for any of the other home nationalities but we didn’t,'” Jackie says, “So there was no way we could go and race for Wales, say, even though we’d just beaten the Scottish pair.”

The next year Jackie signed up for the formal GB squad trials process and was selected to row in the eight at the 1987 World Championships. Full details of this season can be found here.

For those who remember ‘ARA numbers’

Jackie also played an important if tedious role in implementing the ARA’s introduction of individual membership in late 1987. “Because I was living at home, I’d stopped work that year so I could focus on rowing but I ended up working at the ARA doing the data input,” she explains, adding, “My original membership number was S175 because it was the 175th one that I typed in.

1988: selected but not selected

In 1988, Jackie was in the GB eight that raced throughout the season and won Open Eights at the first Henley Women’s Regatta before it was announced that the crew would not be sent to the Seoul Olympics. She remembers that Chief Coach Ron Needs told her that he had wanted her to be sent as one of the spares but had been over-ruled by the other coaches.

“After we were told we weren’t going, Fiona Freckleton, Ann Redgrave and I went down to Dartmouth Royal Regatta and did a mixed eight with some guys which we won by a length but the length was the length of the frigate that’s moored next to the course! That was quite fun,” she says. “We were told off for being ringers when we got our pots, which was probably fair.”

High performance domestic rowing

1989: having fun at Kingston

After the disappointment of the eight not being selected for Seoul, Jackie didn’t enter the squad system in 1989 but carried on training at Kingston RC where she did a “most enjoyable” pair with Aggie Barnett, another member of the 1988 eight. “Unfortunately I caught a boat-stopper just before the line at Henley Women’s when we were winning against a squad pair,” Jackie remembers. As well as winning the quads at the National Championships with Fiona Freckleton (also from the 1988 GB eight) and Sarah Merryman, and she and Aggie raced at Lucerne as a club crew. “We wanted to try and show the squad pair that we should have won the race at Henley Women’s, but we finished up in different heats. We were close enough on times, though, that Steve Gunn [the 1988 GB women’s Chief Coach] asked if we wanted to come back and trial, but we said, ‘No, because we’re not good enough to win a medal,’ which I think took them aback a bit.” They finished the season by representing England at Home Counties in a coxed four (with Fiona and Sarah again), not surprisingly winning their race.

1990: going out on a high

Jackie attended the January and March 1990 GB assessments, doing not particularly well in both a single and a pair at the first of these, and rather better in a pair at the latter with Rachel Hirst but, she recalls, “After the racing Bob Michaels who was in charge, told me that they couldn’t consider me because I hadn’t registered as part of the squad system. Which was fine because it was my choice: I’d fairly clearly irritated enough people at the top of rowing that I wasn’t going to get any further and, to be honest, I’m more a team player and I don’t like singling or ergos, which were increasingly important for trials. I’ll freely admit I under-utilised my attributes by not training as hard as I could or not dedicating myself enough.”

Back at Kingston, and after a “disastrous” race in a pair at Ghent with Aggie Barnett, she teamed up with Fiona Freckleton instead and won Elite Pairs at Henley Women’s Regatta, as well as Elite Quads with Aggie, Flo Johnston and Kate Holroyd. She describes that double win as the achievement she’s most proud of, “Because it was back when it was a one day regatta and to win two reasonably well-subscribed events I did seven 1,500m races that day!” This high point marked the end of her high-performance senior rowing career.

Later rowing and playing rugby

Once she’d stopped rowing seriously Jackie switched the focus of her sporting attentions to rugby which suited her preference for being part of a team. She played for Richmond Women’s and then England ‘A’ two years running, breaking her collar bone in the 1994 Cup final, which, she adds, they won. After this she was team manager for England ‘A’ and Richmond.

However, she never gave up rowing entirely, continuing to do bits and pieces of club rowing as well as skiffing at Thames Valley Skiff Club. She started training seriously again in 2003 and won Senior 1 with Molesey BC at the Women’s Eights Head in 2005 and 2005, and then turning to coaching in 2007, bringing Molesey its first club-level Women’s Henley victory.

Nowadays she’s a member of Walton RC where she paddles most weeks in a quad that has no racing plans whatsoever. She’s also a reliable and regular volunteer at the Head of the River Fours (where the author can attest that she’s the best finish order caller ever – no mean feat at a major event with multiple boat classes) and Henley Women’s Regatta.

Jackie smiling with radio

Jackie on the radio in the finish tent at Henley Women’s Regatta 2017. (Photo © Henley Women’s Regatta.)