|Years||1974 (4x+ unplaced)|
|Clubs||Derby RC, Civil Services Ladies RC|
|Height||5’6″ or 168cm|
|Racing weight||10 stone or 63.5kg|
The photo above shows Lorraine second from the left with the rest of the coxed quad in which she competed at the 1974 World Rowing Championships in Lucerne.
Getting into rowing
To an extent, Lorraine was born into rowing, as her father, Anthony, was a member of Derwent RC as well as being a scull and rowlock maker. However, a combination of rowing not being something that girls did much in the early 1970s, and the fact that her mother taught ballet and had enrolled Lorraine in her classes from an early age, meant that it took a further prompt for her to give it a go.
When I was 15 or 16 I worked as a weekend nanny for a family called the Nicholsons who were members of Derby RC. They were very involved at the club and they told me that there was a girls’ rowing group starting. And all that ballet had never really been my thing – I just did it to please my mother – so when I heard that my father’s sport was available to me, I jumped at the opportunity, although I’m not sure she ever forgave me!
Lorraine started rowing in a pair with the then Women’s Captain, Sue North, who had learned to row herself at university, and was very keen to help her young protege. Outside the club, not everyone was so supportive, though. “Some people laughed at the idea of me rowing because in those days I was quite slight, and they said, ‘You’ll never do that,’ and I thought, ‘Yes I will, I’ll prove you wrong!’ I was determined to do at least reasonably well,” Lorraine explains.
In the summer of 1973 she began to do exactly that, winning non-classified coxed fours at Derby, Agecroft, Bedford Ladies and Huntington regattas. When the club received a letter from Penny Chuter, the new National Coach responsible for women’s rowing, in the autumn of that year announcing that a GB women’s national squad was being started and inviting clubs to put forward the names of women who might be interested, Lorraine was duly nominated, even though she’d only been rowing for about ten months at that point.
The first training and assessment weekend for the new GB women’s squad was a steep learning curve for all concerned, and Loraine was no exception. First of all, the group were swapped in and out of various coxed fours. “I don’t know how I did it but every time I got in a boat I did quite well,” she remembers.
Then the triallists were told that they would be tested in sculling boats, which was a considerable issue for Lorraine as she’d never been in one!
I panicked like mad. But this was at the end of the first day, and we were meant to be on the river the following morning, so I arranged with the boatman that if I got up early I could have a go in a scull before I had to race. And little did I know, but I found out later, the selectors but were actually in a meeting and were watching me sculling, and apparently they nearly said to me, ‘Don’t bother trying!,’ but when I’m in a race situation, I just switch on, and it was over a very short distance, and I did very well. I beat people that, once I realised I shouldn’t have been able to beat, I never beat again!
Having been accepted into the squad on the basis of her potential, Lorraine was well looked after by Liz and Tony Lorrimer from Nottingham RC. Liz was a much more experienced rower and sculler, and her husband Tony was a coach.
Being based in the Midlands while the rest of the squad was in London, Lorraine and Liz were very determined that they should not be dropped because of where they lived. “We didn’t want them to be able to turn round and say, ‘You’re not good enough,’ so we did every session that was on the schedule, even though we found out later that the London group had reduced the weights because Penny had realised they were too hard, and I did extra sessions too. When we got together with the whole squad they couldn’t ignore us because we were up there, and we felt that was why there was a quad that year rather than just a double.”
Lorraine did her weight training with the junior men at Derby RC, which worked well for all concerned. “They quite enjoyed it and I enjoyed the challenge, and because I was brought up with brothers, I didn’t find it odd. I could definitely lift the same weight as them! It was the right environment at the time but perhaps in hindsight I was perhaps lifting more than I should have done. I didn’t know better, and I just did what I thought I needed to do.”
All the weight training must have paid off because Lorraine’s soon gained the nickname ‘Muscles’ within the squad, which was good going for a 17 year old. When fellow squad member Lin Clark then got a printing machine and made shirts for everyone on their final training camp before the Championships, Liz became known as ‘Cockles’ to go with ‘Muscles’ and Tony’s said ‘Alive, Alive-O!’
She’s hugely grateful to Liz and Tony for giving her lifts all of the time, particular when they went down to London to train with the Thames-based double in what became the GB quad that year. And she’s also very quick to thank some of the older members of Derby RC who paid for her training costs, and is quite clear that, “I wouldn’t have got where I did without their backing.” At the same time she’s aware that the whole women’s squad was struggling with a lack of resources. “The squad didn’t get any money because we hadn’t proved ourselves, so we were trying to prove yourself with no backing, and that was very disappointing, when you’d given up typical teenage socialising and worked so hard. I was also having a difficult time at college where I was studying nursery nursing, as I was dyslexic but no one there understood that, so it took me longer than it took everyone else to get what I knew down on paper. But I remember Tony, and one of the other coaches, Martin Pratt, telling me that anyone can do a college course but not everyone has the opportunity to represent their country, and I have to say that rowing sort of won.”
At the World Championships in 1974
Although their eventual result was disappointing, Lorraine thoroughly enjoyed racing with the squad through the 1974 season and at the World Rowing Championships in Lucerne. “I loved being part of the team, and I loved the challenge, although I also felt rather responsible,” she says, although she adds, “I felt the responsibility to do well was quite a lot for me at such a young age [she had only just turned 18 at the time of the Championships]. Because Liz and Jackie had been around more, I certainly looked up to them, and although Pauline was younger than me, she’d been racing for years. But I’ve always loved learning, so I just wanted to do my best.”
Off the water, she says, “I was a bit of a monkey. I never ever drank when we were abroad, but if there was something naughty to be done then it was me that would be up a flag pole pinching a flag or something,” although she denies having any ‘souvenirs’ from the Championships.
A full account of Lorraine’s time in the GB women’s quad at early season regattas and the first World Rowing Championships to include women in 1974 can be found here.
Not long after they returned from the World Championships, Lorraine and Liz decided to do the 31 mile Boston Marathon [in Lincolnshire] in their double. “What was amazing was the reaction of all the men’s teams because they weren’t used to women,” she recalls. “Liz and I were really fit because we’d just come back from the Worlds, the look on the these men’s faces as we passed them was a joy to behold!” She adds that they kept themselves going by singing their way through it, although they did run out of songs, and as she’d totally failed to have breakfast before they started, Tony had to be dispatched to buy a Mars bar which he dangled from the bridge for for her.
The 1975 and 1976 seasons
Lorraine spent a lot of winter weekends in 1974-1975 coming down to London to row in squad eights. “I was pretty fed up with it, to be honest. It seemed a long time in the car!,” she remembers.
By the time the regatta season started she was back in the double with Liz again. With the other two from the 1974 quad now rowing in the eight, it was the double or nothing that season. Unfortunately, after a disappointing result at Mannheim regatta, Liz had to stop rowing for medical reasons, which left Lorraine without a crew. She herself had contracted glandular fever, but only mildly, and was soon back training again as Derby RC put her into its women’s coxed four. “I felt really guilty about that,” she says. “You can imagine the scenario; they were friends and because I suddenly found myself without a partner the club popped me straight back into the four for the National Championships.” Derby RC won the silver medals in both the coxed fours and the pairs that year.
Despite her 1975 season not having gone to plan, her dreams of rowing at the 1976 Olympics were far from over, and after finishing college she moved down to London to row, having got a job as a nanny. Things started unravelling almost immediately as the father in the family she was working for died, and she was unable to take much time off to go rowing.
By then she’d started dating Ian Prince, the man she was to marry, who shared a house (that belonged to the coach John Langfield) with several rowers including Maggie Lambourn, another member of the GB women’s squad, who had given Lorraine floor space to sleep on when she was travelling down from Derby for rowing weekends. Although Ian never got in a boat himself, he’s got sucked into the sport as he was an electronic engineer and finished up making sound systems for his housemates’ boats. Once Lorraine was working in London, he also often found himself looking after the child she was nanny to while she was on the water.
Around this time Lorraine got a letter from the Selectors explaining that they would not be sending a sculling crew to the 1976 Olympics, partly because the standard of sculling was perceived to be higher than the standard of sweep rowing, and also because the cost of sending the team to Montreal was so high that only two boats would be going. As she remember it, the Chair of Selectors, Barbara Philipson, added that as she was still very young, they felt that 1980 would be ‘her’ games instead. “And that’s the last thing you want to hear when you’ve just given your all to your sport!,” Lorraine says. With Ian also gently suggesting that he didn’t really fancy being a stand-in nanny for the next four years, and having proposed to Lorraine, she “chose marriage over rowing.”
As it worked out, this was definitely the right decision. Having got married in 1976 and got on fairly quickly with having her three children, she developed cancer which left her unable to have any more children. “Which is why I don’t mind not having achieved everything I’d set out to in my rowing,” she says, taking an immensely positive and bigger-picture view, “Because I would far rather have had my children.”
She adds that her years in rowing were, “A time of my life which was very happy for me. The friendship, camaraderie and much more that rowing gave me, was second to none.”
One bizarre opportunity which helped her to get fit again from her illness, was ‘Computerstars,’ a competition for computer companies that followed the popular ‘Superstars’ format that was on TV at the time. This involved a wide range of sports including swimming, gym tests, shooting and more, but the tricky bit was that the teams didn’t know in advance what they’d be asked to do, so they were training blind. Having done some buts and pieces of work for the computer company where Ian was a Director, Lorraine was asked to Captain the team and to lead their training.
“I absolutely loved doing the training again,” she says, “Though it was very hard work because we had to be all-rounders.” The company did very well, and reached the international rounds.
Around this time Lorraine started gaining qualifications in gymnastics coaching, which was something she’d done as a child alongside her ballet, and coached up to national level. She later got into PE teaching, “by the back door,” when vacancy came up at a school where she was running a lunchtime gymnastics club. “I stayed there 19 years,” Lorraine laughs.
Today she makes pottery and thoroughly enjoys spending time with her seven grandchildren. “One of them said to me recently that she wants to go to the Olympics, and that just made my whole body melt,” Lorraine says. “I’d never said a word about them because I don’t know whether I want her to try that or not because you have to be so dedicated,” she adds, but it’s clear that she’d secretly be delighted. With her typical positive attitude, she also says that she is thrilled she sees GB women’s rowing doing well now, “At long last!”