June 2 - 28, 2014: Issue 168

 Avalon Beach SLSC Women’s Masters Boat Crew - The Antiques

Donna Wishart  -  Kerry McEwan -  Beverley Tilbury -  Tracey McSullea

Bow: Donna, 2nd Bow: Tracey, Stroke: Kerry, 2nd Stroke: Beverly, Sweep: Rick Millar. 

The Antiques Women’s Masters Boat Crew of Avalon Beach SLSC are a force to be reckoned with. Although many point out they’re ‘dominating’ in their races, and in open races in younger age brackets, the girls don’t think they are; they put it all down to hard work, lots of training, a love of rowing and being a cohesive team. These four ladies enjoy each other’s company and even though each is a high achieving individual with varying interests and backgrounds, in September they will head to France for the Rescue 2014: Lifesaving World Championships to defend their 2012 Gold Medal and then on to Biarritz for the Ocean Thunder International.

Awarded the inaugural Max Watt Competitor of the Year for 2013-14 season, of which they’re particularly proud, with ten children between them, demanding careers as a teacher of Humanities at Barrenjoey and Year 10 (Kerry), media and communications with Surf Life Saving NSW (Donna), part of the Ecodownunder small business franchise at Avalon Beach (Beverly), and even studying while working full time  in the case of Tracey, who is going for a Masters Degree of Interaction Design and Electronic Arts, there’s something wonderful that has come together here to gel four individuals into one team.

At practice sessions you see, despite Rick Millar’s famous straight talking, there is a twinkle in this champion sweep’s eye and his tips are softly spoken. It’s all about getting the work done, doing the preparation. The Antiques don’t go up against the waves to create a great spray, which looks great for photographers but is hard on the rowers when you come back down; Rick has taught them to wait for the surge at wave peak and pull then, which allows you to gently get out with the water working with you, not against you.

Having only attended four of the ladies training sessions you only get a small glimpse of how dedicated they are, not how much else they do. Kerry provides details; they do one form of training or another everyday. On Saturdays or Sundays they’re out at Palm Beach, rowing from one end to the other to test their skills in surf running at the northern end, right under the lighthouse. On Wednesday mornings they’re up in the cold and dark doing flat water training, time trials and building strength and perseverance on Pittwater in laps around Scotland Island or up to Lion Island, around that, and back. The other days its running or gym work, but something every single day on top of work and all else they do as individuals.

Today is the day you win the carnivals,” Rick Millar tells them, “Coming out in the cold and training, when everyone else is asleep.”

That’s the difference – cool and cold mornings, sea still misty with last nights rain and this morning’s sunrise and wanting to be out there amongst it. The early morning sessions remind you that it’s great to be awake and outdoors, on the water. The girls are also committed to being part of other crews; Kerry often helps out with Rick’s younger girls crews and everyone has filled in for other crews when rowers are sick or away. 

We had a whale swim under the boat out there once – that was fantastic. We just kept perfectly still until it had gone - but we'll never forget it. And this morning (Palm Beach - Sunday morning Training Session), there are dolphins around – it’s great.” Beverly and Donna smile.

The George Bass Marathon – what was that like?

We’ve done three of those, 2010, 2012 and 2014. That was tough, but something we wanted to do. Out there (at sea) there are some huge seas, it’s not like surfboat racing at carnivals. It’s the longest pull in the world and we did it, but it was a very tough race. We won the last one in our age division.

Are you going to do it again?

Yes, we are.

At Session 1 the first thing that becomes apparent as these girls lift their own weight per boat weight – a surfboat weighs 220 kilos, physical weight; fact 1. The dynamics in this forms some indication of the bedrock of this boat crew. Rick says “they’re strong, they are physically strong and mentally strong. They can walk down the beach and they’re not taking any crap from anyone, they’ve worked hard, earned it.”

Rick: I call them ‘The Antiques’ because they’re old, but good – like antiques, something that gets better with age.

When did you begin as a boat crew?

Five years ago, we all wanted to row and approached Rick who agreed to take us on.

What is it about being part of a Surf Life Saving boat crew that you all like?

Antiques: The Lifestyle, it’s a lifestyle. There’s a real family within boat crews – we see each other at all the carnivals, we see each other outside of these times in other places as parents and during business and already have a connection due to the passion all rowers have for their sport.

When you won gold at the International World Championships in South Australia, how did that feel?

Bev: that was fantastic. That was really hard rowing.

Kerry: we had some really strong competition and we weren’t confident at all.

Donna: It was difficult weather, a testing surf running.

Is that the point of the still water training – to train for France?

Bev: A bit of both, because after that we’re going to Biarritz. There’s surf at Biarritz. So weekends we do the surf training and here(Clareville) is a lot of strength work and endurance training.

Tracey: and Style, I concentrate on style (laughs).

The dynamics of the four – who is the party girl?

Bev and Donna: Tracey.

Donna: she’s also the princess.

Who is the mother hen?

Donna: That’s Bev.

Bev: Huh!

Tracey: yes, Bev’s the mother hen.

Bev: Donna is the control freak.

Donna: I am the control freak…

And who is the wise one?

Tracey: Maybe that one up there…the schoolteacher.

Bev: yes, Kerry.

Donna: Kerry, yeah.

Tracey: she just rolls her eyes when we’re mucking up, ‘here they go again’.

You’re all doing this as well as looking after families and running businesses, and Tracey you are doing a lot of studying as well as working. How do you maintain a work-life balance?

Donna: It’s hard sometimes, but you just push through. It’s also a great break. I remember when my children were still small, it gave me time for myself for an hour or so each week; it gave me back my fitness, gave me time with these girls and that made everything else better – so it enhances everything else in a way, and you also get the friendship that comes with being part of a team.

Beverly: We’re committed to the boat crew, we love it, love the teamwork. We all also love being out on the water too.

Kerry: It’s the friendship – there’s a rowing fraternity between all boat crews and the fitness gives you energy for everything else. I really like teenagers, I have five children, all individuals and quite different; one of these rows for Warriewood. We too are all individuals, so I think what each person brings is what makes us work so well together. 

Tracey: We all wanted to row, we love it. It does make everything else you do better, not just the fitness, but being part of a team.

Rick, what are you telling them to get ready for in France?

Rick: I’m telling them to get ready for the rowing, but they’re actually getting ready for the partying.

Ladies, what are you looking forward to in France?

Donna: Gold medals first we hope.

Kerry and Tracey: and cheese…the food…and presents.

Rick: Once the rowing is over they can do whatever they like; I only dictate the rowing, the partying is up to them. 

Tracey: Rowing as best we can and then ….sneak into Spain for some shopping.

Beverly: Well rowing, rowing is number one, and then having fun with these girls; friendship, cheese, wine; spending time with these girls, relaxing with them. They’re great to relax with.

Tracey: Laughing until you cry.

Beverly: Yes, laughing until you cry; we do that a lot.

Tracey: We have a lot of fun together, after the races.

What about Biarritz though – won’t the girls have to stay in condition for then?

Rick: That’s only a week, they only have to stay in condition for a week. Once you stop training you hold condition for three or four weeks. When we went into the Australian Titles they’d trained so hard that the last two weeks is really rest time. The body recovers then, rests up, and they’re ready to go.

How proud of these girls are you Rick?

Rick: You know I’m proud of them, they’ve done exceptionally well. I keep saying to them, ‘if only we were all 30 years younger they’d be Australian Champions on the Open Women’s’.”

Will you take your own boat to France?

No, we’ll borrow a boat over there – we may take our own oars as they have a different kind of rowlock over there. The cost of getting these there is almost as much as the cost of buying new ones over there, so we’ll decide closer to the time to leave.

What’s the best thing about getting involved in a surfboat crew?

Tracey: The friendship.

Donna: The friendship.

Bev: The challenge. You’re out on the water, wind in my hair (laughs). Seriously, it’s good to be fit, good to be out with these girls and Rick. It’s a gorgeous time of the day and even though we all hate getting out of bed, first thing in the morning it’s just absolutely beautiful here. 

Kerry: I like working in a team, so any sport that I can do with a group of people is great.

Are you tired?; it’s way past the end of the season and you’re still going.

Beverly; No, it’s part of our life. We’ve still been doing some training.

Kerry: We train everyday in one way or another, whether it’s rowing, gym work, running – there’s something everyday.

Donna: it does get exhausting, working and looking after children. Hopefully our gym will be open in the new clubhouse during the next few weeks and we have a trainer who is going to help us out.

Tracey: we’re running at full strength at present but hopefully, yes, that trainer will help us out to become more so.

Rick: It’s hard, they’re starting two months earlier than normal. Usually we don’t start training really hard until August or September but this year we’ve got to get ready to race at that time. Mentally it’s hard as well; it’s cold, it’s a different kind of toughness they ‘re developing, a mental toughness. They’ve had a few practice sessions for that though – what they did at Coff’s Harbour is a good example of that. 

At Coff’s they had 180+ mens and womens and no other women turned up so we said ‘can we row in the mens?’ they said you can, but you can’t have the medals or the money …

Donna: It was big surf too that day – November 2013.

Tracey: they were laughing at us.

Beverly: they were so dismissive of us.

Rick: so the race against the men they line up and the other crews look across at us and they smile away. 

Beverly: The first race we came second, second race we came first; we caught this big wave right into the beach. 

Tracy: we beat everyone.

Donna: I remember laying on the bow.

Tracy: then we won an Open Women's race straight afterwards.

Rick: They beat them all by a good boat length. Everyone laughed at us because they were rowing against the men, and the beach went berserk when they won; everyone was up and cheering, it was great. Everyone loved seeing the underdogs win. 

What is The Antiques motto?

“You’re never too old for Gold!”

 The Antiques - Avalon Beach SLSC Women's Masters Boat Crew: (Left to right)  Tracey McSullea, Kerry McEwan, Bev Tilbury, Donna Wishart, Rick Millar (sweep) 

Highlights 2013 – 2014
2013/2014: George Bass Marathon: 1st (Women’s Vets)
Australian Titles – Scarborough Beach, Western Australia
Gold - Masters women’s 180 year Donna Wishart, Kerry McEwan, Beverley Tilbury, Tracey McSullea, Rick Millar
2014 - SLS NSW State Championships - Open Championships – Ocean Beach, Umina 15/03/2014
Silver - Masters women’s 180 year
SYDNEY NORTHERN BEACHES Branch MASTERS Surf Lifesaving Carnival COLLAROY BEACH February 2014
Gold - 180yrs Women: Avalon Beach Antiques

Highlights 2012-2013
National Gold Medallist - 3 years running - Tracey McSullea, Donna Wishart, Rick Millar (sweep), Beverley Tilbury, Kerry McEwan
GOLD- Women’s Masters Boat Crew – Bev Tilbury, Kerry McEwan, Tracey McSullea, Donna Wishart, Rick Millar (sweep)
GOLD - Masters women’s crew 160 yrs – Bev Tilbury, Kerry McEwan, Tracey McSullea, Donna Wishart, Rick Millar (sweep)
Highlights 2011-2012
Australian Titles - Kurrawa
Gold - Masters women’s 160 year Donna Wishart, Kerry McEwan, Beverley Tilbury, Tracey McSullea, Rick Millar
Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches Championships
Gold - Masters Women’s Boat Crew,

Bev: 54, 
Kerry: 51, 
Tracey: just turned 51 (21.6.) 
Donna: 46

Competitors of the Year – 2012-13 – from Avalon Beach SLSC Annual Report
Team Name: Avalon Beach Antiques – Masters Women’s Surfboat Crew (180+ division)
Nickname: The Old Girls
Members: Bev Tilbury, Kerry McEwan, Tracey McSullea, Donna Wishart, Rick Millar (sweep)

The crew has been competing together for 5 years, and all are in their late 40s to early 50s. From humble beginnings and with a desire to do something for themselves, (the crew has 10 children between them) the novice crew were taken under the wing of legendary surfboat sweep and coach, Rick Millar. While he initially questioned the sense in this decision, in the space of a few seasons the Antiques were dominating Masters women’s surfboat racing in Australia.

The Antiques are a bit of a novelty on the race circuit, as a dearth of female Masters crews within the Branch has meant the crew predominantly races in the Open Women’s division, competing against girls half their age.

In the beginning, the Antiques had to form a thick skin, as strange looks from other competitors and some embarrassing early defeats made the crew question this competition strategy. In the early days, other boats would be back on the beach while the Antiques were just rounding the turning cans.

However during the 2012/13 season, the crew were holding their own in the Open division, regularly making semi-finals and often arriving back onshore just a boatlength or two behind the top Open female crews in the country.

After a disappointing rollover in big seas at the 2010 Australian Championships, which put them out of medal contention, the Antiques vowed to come back and try again.

In 2011, the crew surprised everyone including themselves when they were first across the line at Kurrawa to pick up the coveted Australian Gold medal. This year, they made it 3 in a row with another Gold at Aussies. This topped off a fantastic season for the crew, with a 2nd at NSW State Champs (1st in 2012), 1st at the ASRL Open, 1st at Aussies and a hard-fought 1st in Adelaide at the World Surf Life Saving Championships.

In addition, the girls have not one, but two George Bass Marathons under their belt, rowing almost 200kms in 2010 and 2012 in the world’s longest, most gruelling surfboat race. This was the first time the Avalon Beach SLSC had ever fielded a crew in this event.
Despite running families, small-businesses and working full-time, the crew embraces a busy training program, both in and out of the boat, even during the cold winter months. In peak season, training involves at least 4-5 sessions in the boat on flat water and in the surf, along with running or gym work most days.

Coach and sweep Rick Millar says the crew’s commitment to training, and their willingness to compete regularly in Open Women division racing, has given them the edge over most other Masters crews.

“The girls never complain, no matter how early it is in the morning, how windy or cold. They certainly didn’t start out as a naturally good surfboat team but they’ve worked extremely hard and deserve every success that’s come their way,” said Rick Millar.

Despite having very different personalities, the girls say a large part of their success is due to putting the team first, supporting each other while they’ve watched crews around them breakdown due to personality clashes or self-interest. That, and having a great coach and sweep of course.

“Rick is an amazingly skilled and motivated coach and sweep and surfboat rowing is his passion. We trust him implicitly, whatever the situation, and we’re sure we would not have achieved the results we have if it weren’t for him believing that we could do it,” said the Antiques.