|Years||1992 World Championships (Lt2x 4th)
1993 World Championships (Lt2x 6th)
1994 World Championships (Lt1x 11th)
1995 World Championships (Lt2x 19th)
1996 World Championships (Lt4- 6th)
|Clubs||Burway RC, Staines BC, Nottinghamshire County Rowing Association, Cambridge University Women’s BC, Molesey BC|
|Height||5’4” or 163cm|
The photo at the top of this page shows …
Getting into rowing
Trisha learned to row during her last couple of years at school at a time when she was lacking an outlet for her athetic abilities. “Before that I’d been a runner. I used to do 1,500m, cross country and all that sort of thing and I ran for Middlesex, but there wasn’t much going on at school I was at by this time. Then my older sister started rowing with some of her friends in Hammersmith, and I thought that sounded interesting so I went along to Burway rowing club which was near where I lived,” she explains.
There weren’t many girls or women at the club at that time but she was happy to single scull. “I did quite a lot of sculling events but I didn’t get anywhere, and then various people told me that I should go to Egham Regatta because I’d win there, so I went there and duly I won!”
The club’s women’s section took off the following year, coached by the 1980 Olympian Jane Cross. Trisha stroked the first eight which won the novice pennant at the Women’s Head in 1985.
“After the Head,” she remembers, “We broke up into two fours for the summer and my crew went from Novice to Senior A in one season,” picking up five wins.
In the way these things happen, though, many of this successful group drifted away, and with few others left to row with, Trisha returned to sculling in 1986, buying a second-hand Davies boat and driving herself off to regattas where she had another really successful season.
In 1987 she moved to Staines BC where there was more of a women’s squad, coached by Ian Shore. Two of the women in this group were trying to gain selection in a pair for the European under-23 Match des Seniors regatta and one, who had been a junior at Marlow RC, suggested that Trisha team up with one of her friends from there, Kristel Osborn, to do a lightweight double. They didn’t have much time to get together, and Trisha had to lose some weight which, she says, “Was quite good for me because I probably wasn’t eating the right things,” but they were selected and reached the final, finishing fourth.
International rowing career
After reaching this first rung of the international rowing ladder and being introduced to lightweight rowing, Trisha was quite clear that she wanted to take her rowing to the next level. “I’d always dreamed of doing GB. When I was a runner, my dream was to go to the Olympics as a runner, so even at that young age, I was thinking like that and whatever sport I did, I wanted to do it well,” she remembers.
Over the next four years she trialled for the GB senior squad and rowed in GB lightweight crews at the Women’s Head on several occasions but never quite got into the World Championships team, although it’s worth remembering that there were only three places for lightweight scullers than; a double and a single. “Each time, after I’d been cut, I’d have a little break and think, ‘I’m going to give up rowing,’ but then start again a few months later,” she recalls, ruefully.
Trisha finally made it in 1992. “My boat wasn’t the best of boats – it was still a wooden one – and I don’t know whether that made a difference because I think I’d changed my land training programme as well and was training harder because lots more people had joined the women’s group at Staines, but I got a new Hi-Tech boat and did really well in the first session at one of the early trials, and I remember Billy Mason (GB Lightweight Women’s Chief Coach) cycling the whole way with me in the afternoon timing it to make sure that it wasn’t a mistake because he couldn’t believe my time!,” she laughs.
Three months before the Worlds, she was selected to scull in the lightweight double with Helen Mangan in the lightweight double, although they could only train together at weekends as Helen lived in Runcorn, and both of them had full time jobs. They won the silver medal at Lucerne regatta, but finished fourth at the Worlds. “It was my first Worlds and my first kit so that was amazing to finally do it and achieve what you were keen to achieve all your life,” she recalls, adding, “It was obviously scary, being on the start line of a World Championships, but it was great, and I loved it and definitely wanted to do more.”
After another year doubling at a distance with Helen, the duo hoped that they could improve their result in 1993. They won at Paris regatta, but in the end they finished sixth at the World Championships.
Trisha also raced in the first open women’s single sculls event at Henley Royal Regatta that year, for which she pre-qualified as an established international sculler. Unfortunately, for her, she was drawn against Anneliese Braedel, the Belgian who had won the silver medal at the 1992 Olympic Games, so she went out in the first round, but she nevertheless loved the whole experience. “I trained on the course in lunch and tea intervals during the first few days of racing, and it was just amazing to be part of it that first year,” she remembers. She also got onto the front page of The Times. With media attention about women at Henley abounding, Trisha was approached by a photographer who was looking for a shot that was more unusual than two scullers racing. “He asked me if I could throw some water up in the air because it was really hot,” she says, “So I held my water bottle up and poured it over my face and he took some pictures of that. And the next day somebody said, ‘Have you seen, you’re on the front of The Times!“, and I thought it must be the front of the sports section, but then I went to the newsagent and there it was on the actual front cover!” For copyright reasons, this fun shot can’t be included her, sadly.
Still extremely keen to carry on and try to get better, Trisha changed boat again for the 1994 trials. “I bought a Sims because everyone was, but I found it really hard to scull. I don’t know if that was the boat or me, but I didn’t go well that year,” she explains. As a result, she lost her seat in the double with Helen to Phoebe White but as the third fastest lightweight sculler at the time, was selected to single scull at the World Championships that year. She raced in a Hudson shell, which she got on with more, but came eleventh. Although she enjoyed single sculling and was pleased to be improving, she admits, “I probably just wasn’t fast enough,” and adds that she felt she had more to offer in crew boats. “I think I’m more of a crew person than a single sculler. I can do stuff on my own and I’m quite happy to do that and train, but I always think I’m better in a crew.”
Although she still lived in south west London, she then joined Nottinghamshire County Rowing Association, which was a centre of excellence for lightweight rowing, and commuted at weekends to train there. “I just felt I needed a bit more pushing although in hindsight it might have been better for me to have gone to the Tideway and joined in with one of the clubs up there where there were lightweight women,” she reflects, “But there again, I don’t always like being in with the group because I like to be able to train when I’m training and race when I need to race whereas every training session can be about racing when you’re with a group and you could be judged on your performance in any training session, not just when there’s a formal trial.” These two opposing approaches to training each have staunch advocates, and no squad ever appears managed to reconcile them with the ‘every piece is a race’ camp claiming that their approach is the only way to become hard enough for real racing, while the adherents of ‘training is training’ feel that constant racing is psychologically training for no benefit and doesn’t lead to improved technique.
The lightweight double scull had become a key boat in 1995 because it had been added to the programme for the 1996 Olympic Games (the only lightweight women’s boat in there), so competition for it was hotter than ever. In addition, if the crew could come in the top 12 at the 1995 World Championships, the boat would have a guaranteed entry in the Olympics – otherwise it woud have to qualify at a separate regatta in June 1996.
Trisha formed a double with Tonia Williams, who had been World Champion in the lightweight coxless four in 1993 and had also won silvers in the boat in 1993 and 1994. It should have gone well, but it didn’t, and after doing quite badly at Lucerne Regatta in July 1995, Tonia decided that she didn’t want to continue with it. Some extra trials were hastily arranged from which Nicky Dale was selected as Trisha’s new partner, and it is a credit to both of them that with less than a month to gel the new crew (and no international racing opportunities), they got to within 0.33 seconds of qualifying for the Olympics.
In 1996, Trisha, Nicky and several other lightweights (including Tonia’s former crew mates from the hugely successful lightweight four, Jane Hall and Alison Brownless, who had raced a lightweight pair at the Worlds in 1995) were all fighting to get into the double again. After doing extremely well in early trials, it was all due to be decided at a set of trials in February, but with desperately bad luck, Trisha was rushed to hospital with appendicitis a couple of days before they took place. “My mum was in the emergency ward with me saying to the doctors, ‘Is there anything you can do, she’s got an Olympic trial tomorrow?’, and I was just lying there groaning, ‘I’m in pain, I don’t care!’” By the time she was back training again, the opportunity had long gone and the lightweight coxless four that would go to the World Championships had also been provisionally selected. However, Trisha requested a trial for that, and got in. Her four won a silver medal at the World Championships, but the double missed out on qualifying for the Olympics. “So, in a way, it all worked out for the best for me because we had fun together, we raced well and I got a medal,” she reflects, “Although sculling was always my first love so I kind felt I sold my soul by going rowing because it was really a sulling medal that I’d always wanted.”
Full accounts of Trisha’s five years in the GB rowing team can be read here:
Rowing for Cambridge
While she’d been rowing for the GB team, Trisha had been doing a degree at Brunel University as a mature student, which she found fitted really well round her training. “I only had about five hours of lectures a week, and as I’d been working up to then, that didn’t seem much to me,” she says. Having graduated, she decided that she wanted to go into teaching got a place to do a PGCE at Cambridge. She trialled for the openweight blue boat, but was only offered a seat in Blondie, the reserve boat. The coaches then suggested that she would be able to make more of a difference to the lightweights than Blondie, so she rowed at six in the lightweight crew which won by a canvas. “I didn’t enjoy the whole training in Cambridge thing quite as much,” she admits. “I’d come from being able to train on my own, when it fitted round what else I was doing, and now I had to do it with everybody else, and I was doing a different kind of course from them too so I found it quite hard.”
After rowing at Staines and then Molesey in club crews (including a fun four and a rather nippy eight, coxed by the author, which qualified for the first open women’s eights event at Henley Royal Regatta in 2000), Trisha got into dragon boating. “I’d gone along to watch a friend who did it and ended up in a boat, and then I there was a GB dragon boating team so I thought I’d give that a go!” she explains. “I got what we call an O1, which is a canoe with an outrigger on the side, and then was the second fastest in the country after about three months.”
She raced in the GB team from 2001-2009, winning multiple medals becoming World Champion in the 500m event in 2004. After this she then coached the GB women for three further years which, she says, “Was interesting because there are so many people in the boat  with so many opinions!”
In 2013 she completed Na Wahine O Ke Kai Paddle Out race from Molokai to Oahu in Hawaii in a GB crew that included the retired Olympic sculler Guin Batten. The course covers over 38 miles of open ocean. “It’s in a really gnarly channel between the two islands,” she explains, “And you’re paddling for seven hours one with big waves as high as your house. We thought we know what to expect because we’d trained in Exmouth, and we were quite wrong!”
After a few years off, she got into the over 50 ‘open’ team (which usually only includes) in 2018 and is still racing. “Compared with rowing, the actual stroke isnt so comfortable but the camaraderie is totally different and it’s much more fun; it’s still serious but fun as well. When you’re rowing, even though you’re eventually in a crew, you spend most of the season competing against the people you finish up racing with and even when you were in a crew wih them, it would only be for a short time and then you’d be back trialling against again the next season. So there is a crew bond but it’s not that strong, whereas in dragon boating, there’s still competition to get into the crew but there might be 30 or 40 trialling for 20 seats, compared with 60 people and for three seats in rowing. Here, it’s all about everyone trying to help everyone else get better as well as yourself. I started off doing the rowing thing of trying to go as fast as I could but not telling anyone else what I was doing, and then one day our coach said that if I could help other people get better and then they could be faster then that could make the boat go faster, and I twigged that it was actually appropriate to do that rather than keeping everything a secret.”
© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2020.