Posted: 8 March 2024

In celebration of International Women's Day, Scottish Rowing is proud to recognise the remarkable contribution of women in our sport. In this special feature, we're sharing a small sample of stories from athletes, volunteers, and staff members - hearing about their experiences, what rowing means to them and about those who inspired them.


Sophie McCall


 What inspired you to start rowing, and how has the sport shaped your life?

"As a seriously unsporty teenager, I was persuaded to start rowing by friends in halls at Dundee Uni, mainly by the free food and drinks after training!  But, as soon as I got in a boat I loved being on the water, being part of a team, and it’s hard to describe but something just clicked. I felt like I belonged and I’ve never looked back. Starting rowing has shaped my life more than I could have possibly imagined. I now have a career in sport and have been lucky enough to have worked across a number of different sports and sporting organisations. I’ve worked at Commonwealth Games, World Championships, World University Games and European Championships. I’m a coach and coach educator, and recently joined the Scottish Rowing Board as Director of Development. I’ve made life long friends, and my met my husband, through rowing and sport. I could never have imagined the opportunities, friendships and experiences which I’ve had which all started with me starting rowing."



Becky Bannister


How do/did you stay motivated during tough times or setbacks in your rowing journey?

"I've been plagued with knee injuries since I was 14 and had two operations. I didn't really become a rower until I was 25 and started learning how to protect my knee better from injury. After a few years of being on the Thames I moved up to Scotland for work, but it was just as Covid was hitting so I didn't get a chance to join a local club. I ran indoor circuits for my old team over Zoom but eventually they were allowed back on the water and I was left doing my circuits by myself while I was still furloughed. Motivation was pretty low at this point, and I wasn't sure if I was going to go back to rowing, but then my brother was invited to represent GB at World Cup 3 where he won Silver. That evening I found my nearest club and sent them a message. Since then I've made new friends, helped organise Regattas, become a coach, raced a lot and trialled for a WEHORR seat (where I am this weekend). Due to my shift work I do most of my training alone, which is tough. I get through it with loud music and the knowledge that the rest of the team are doing it too and we'll all be stronger for it. My knee still stops me from training and competing sometimes when it's bad and I get annoyed, but I know it's best to stop and the recovery will be quicker rather than pushing through and making it worse as I've done in the past. When it is bad, I try to focus on what exercises I can do rather than what it's stopping me from doing and then I can slowly build back up to using it again without feeling like I've been set back too far from it."
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Barbara Millns


Can you share a memorable moment or achievement from your involvement in rowing that stands out to you?

"I am a disabled athlete (CP) who learnt to row in my early 50's. Found my sport 40 years too late - however it didn't stop me having a go. I won Gold at the British and European Indoors 2012 (held 2013) in my age group (55-59) and trialled for the paralympics in 2008 (didn't quite make it). I raised £1.2m for Tyne United Rowing club to build new facilities  in 2011 and sat on British Rowing Council representing NE England. I moved to Scotland in 2015 and was heavily involved establishing Tay RC, the majority of members are women!
However, the most memorable moment - Winning Gold two years running at British Masters Championships 2013 -14 4x-DEF Age Group. I was awarded an MBE for services to rowing in 2015 which was memorable for going to the Palace ...but not as good as winning gold!  Funny old world!"
                                   Barbara Millns20d 25004
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Cara O'Donnell


Who are some of the female figures in rowing who have inspired or mentored you throughout your sporting journey?

"Rowing is such a beautiful sport in that we are constantly learning new things and the community is always so supportive, so it is difficult to narrow it down. As an athlete I looked up to Dame Katherine Grainger, as I imagine all young Scottish female rowers do. I was lucky enough to meet Katherine as a young athlete at one of the Scottish Rowing Award Dinners, not long after the 2012 Olympics. She me told to "Always aim high and have fun!" - words I have carried with me for many years.

I also look up to the Umpires, like Carol Wallace, who were there at every race I’ve ever done. Seeing women in that role of authority figures within sport was really encouraging to me as I started to branch into the different aspects of rowing. Recently I have been learning from volunteers like Mary Rouse, about managing teams and Becky Bannister, about managing stress in the Race Control tower!

 Most importantly I have learned beside and been supported throughout my entire sporting career by my Mum, Julie. She not only supports me but many others in the rowing community - always happy to lend a hand whenever needed (and not just because I drag her along to events). Having women to look up to in sport is so important for young female athletes and I am so lucky to have had so many. I hope to one day become an inspiring role model myself."



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Natalie Firth


Who are some of the female figures in rowing who have inspired or mentored you throughout your sporting journey?
"Claire Smyth:
When I first started rowing, my first ever coach at Stirling was Claire, and she was also the club captain. She was very friendly and welcoming, and so encouraging of every person that walked in the club. As a young girl it was inspiring to see a woman as not just a coach but captain too. She taught me a lot about what it is to be a rower, a volunteer and a coach. It's important for young girls in sport to have role models to keep them inspired. Now that I am captain, I hope I can be that, as Claire was definitely that for me."
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Jen Thomson


What inspired you to start rowing, and how has the sport shaped your life?

"I left Scotland as a teenager to study at Oxford – I knew nothing of the sport apart from the Boat Race and the Olympics, but thought it seemed like a good thing to try out while I was at university! Being part of a crew and a club was a fantastic way to make friends and although competing wasn’t really my thing, I found huge amounts of enjoyment and satisfaction by helping to organise competitions. I stayed in the sport after graduation, becoming a Scottish & British Rowing umpire in 2005 and a World Rowing umpire in 2019. Rowing has given me lifelong friends and a volunteer career within an incredibly welcoming community as well as opportunities to travel the world attending regattas as a technical official or umpire. The skills and experience I’ve gained through organising competitions and studying for my umpiring exams helps me in my ‘real’ job too, and I’ve just completed UK Sport’s International Leadership Programme – an opportunity I would never have had if it wasn’t for rowing.

The photo is of me checking a boat on Control Commission at the first World Rowing event I umpired at (World Masters Rowing Regatta 2022, Libourne, France)."




As we celebrate International Women's Day, we are deeply inspired by the remarkable stories and insights shared by the women of Scottish Rowing. Their journeys embody the essence of resilience, determination, and the transformative power of inclusion in our sport.

From Sophie McCall's journey of discovering her passion for rowing to Becky Bannister's perseverance through setbacks, and Barbara Millns' remarkable achievements as a disabled athlete, each story is a testament to the strength and diversity of women within our rowing community.

Furthermore, the influence of those female role models and the invaluable support of mentors underscores the importance of representation and support in nurturing the next generation of rowers.

As we reflect on these narratives, we are reminded of the importance of fostering an environment where every individual feels valued, included and supported to pursue their passion for rowing. On International Womens Day, we remain committed to championing gender equality and inclusion in rowing, ensuring that the voices and achievements of women continue to inspire and shape our sport for generations to come.