Beryl Cast in Coin

Beryl Crockford (racing as Beryl Mitchell), sculling medallist in the World Championships in 1981 and 1985, was the first female single sculler to win an HRR medal and the first woman to become a member of Leander Club. Photograph – courtesy of Eamonn McCabe ©.

18 July 2017

Chris Dodd writes:

British Rowing will add a new medal to its portfolio of awards in February 2018. The Beryl Crockford Medal is the inspired idea of Beryl’s husband Duncan while coming to terms with her tragic death in a cycling accident near Sydney’s Olympic stadium in September last year. Originally targeted at a coach of juniors, the aim now is to spread the net further because Beryl’s wide and varied contribution to rowing.

Beryl was nothing if not inspirational, whether as a competitor, a coach, a teacher, a mother, a partner, a human being or someone to be around, and the idea of the annual medal – and two others designed for the schools that she took to the top of the rowing game – is to be a legacy as well as a memorial.

Sydney High School for Boys Beryl Crockford Medal. Image courtesy of Duncan Crockford.

Beryl’s CV is as long as your arm. After schooling at London’s French Lycée and graduating from Chelsea College of Physical Education, Eastbourne, she lists an impressive trail of teaching, mentoring and coaching posts, as well as coaching qualifications in rowing, volleyball, weightlifting and trampolining. She coached novices, juniors and senior internationals, notably at Thames Tradesmen and Lady Eleanor Holles School, before moving to Australia, where her influence was ingrained at Drummoyne Rowing Club and a string of schools, notably Sydney High School for Boys. The first girl to receive the Beryl Crockford Medal at Lady Eleanor Holles was Hasna Virk. The first boy to receive the Beryl Crockford Medal, which is ‘Awarded to a rower from Years 8-12 who possesses the ideal qualities required to be a champion rower’, at Sydney High School was Thomas Schanzer.

Beryl also coached representative New South Wales and Australian crews. Her greatest sculling achievements are the silver medal for the single at the Munich World Championships in 1981 and the gold in the lightweight doubles with Lin Clark at the Hazewinkel World Championships in 1985.

“Lady of the Lake” – A photograph from the 1981 Lucerne regatta where Beryl Crockford (racing as Beryl Mitchell) snatched the gold medal for the single both days ahead of the Soviet and East German scullers. Photograph – courtesy of Eamonn McCabe ©.

Lin gave voice to a fond tribute at Duke’s Meadows bandstand on the Saturday between Henley Women’s Regatta and Henley Royal, after which a crew from Lady Eleanor Holles scattered Beryl’s ashes on the Tideway below Barnes Bridge, where she learned to row at St George’s Ladies. Beryl was also honoured in row-pasts at both regattas. She was the first female single sculler to win an HRR medal, in the 1982 invitation event. She was also the first woman to become a member of Leander. The Crockford (née Martin, competed as Beryl Mitchell) medals represent the final chapter in Beryl’s farewell, a chapter designed to give a breath of life each year.

The British Rowing medal has five words describing the qualities that Beryl lived by and valued in her athletes on its backside: Imagine, Inspire, Educate, Collaborate, Innovate. The medals for Sydney High and Lady Eleanor Holles invoke Imagination, Commitment, Initiative, Empathy and Humility. The image of Beryl sculling is taken from a photograph by Eamonn McCabe of the Observer.

British Rowing’s Beryl Crockford Medal. Image courtesy of Duncan Crockford.

Here, in his own words, is Duncan’s description of Beryl’s qualities that inspired the wording on the British Rowing medals:

Educate – Beryl, above all else, was an educator and she took a holistic approach to her rowing programmes. She demanded commitment from her athletes and coaches in her pursuit of excellence but this was always balanced with equal commitment to pastoral care and teaching life lessons her athletes could take with them long after leaving the programme.

Collaborate – Beryl would always strive to do the best thing for any athlete; the athlete was always more important than the programme, the school or club and certainly the coach. To achieve the best outcomes for her athletes Beryl would collaborate with academic staff and coaches from other disciplines who also had demands on her athletes. She would collaborate with other rowing coaches and with other schools and clubs if it were going to benefit the athlete.

Innovate – Tradition is a good thing in its place but it has no place on the water or in any training programme. To hear from someone ‘we do it this way because that’s the way we’ve always done it’ was a red rag to a bull for Beryl. Beryl was an innovator, sometimes out of necessity due to lack of resources or difficult circumstances but always because she simply hated standing still.

Imagine – This was one of the key elements of Beryl’s success as an athlete and as a coach. People will often say ‘you have to be realistic’. Indeed, it’s unrealistic to enter a marathon when you’ve only prepared for the 1500m, but why did you only prepare for the 1500m? Probably because someone told you ‘you have to be realistic’. When you go outside and look up, what do you see? Some people only see the trees and believe the top of the tree that they can see is as high as you can go. The sky isn’t even on their radar; it’s hidden in plain sight. To be a success in rowing and in life you must have imagination.

Inspire – Quite apart from her history as an athlete and during her coaching career; her ever-increasing track record of success, Beryl exuded confidence and enthusiasm and never failed to inspire her athletes. Any successful coach, especially a coach of juniors, must have the ability to inspire their athletes.

Lady Eleanor Holles School Beryl Crockford Medal. Image courtesy of Duncan Crockford.

And on the school medals:

Commitment …to self: Athletes have to get themselves into the boat; no one else is going to do it for them.

…to the crew: It doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re nothing without your crew.

…to the team: This means the whole boat club. There is no greater glory than a glory shared. Long after individual achievements have been forgotten, the achievements of the Boat Club will live on.

Imaginationsee above.

Initiative – Life is always putting roadblocks in the way of what you want to do and achieve. You must have initiative to push past these. When you turn up for a training session, a regatta, boat loading or the like you can be someone who stands around expecting things to go on around you or you can be someone who has prepared mentally and knows what needs to be achieved. This person quickly assesses the situation and gets on with it in the most efficient manner, often thinking outside the square.

Humility and Empathy – Qualities often lacking in very high achievers but essential in true champions. Everyone has a physical breaking point. Most people never get near it because they’re not capably of pushing themselves that hard. Those we see winning medals at Olympics and World Championships have met their breaking point and embraced it. They repeatedly push up to it and test themselves against it; that’s what sets them apart. Without humility you can’t deal with it and without empathy you can’t recognize it and encourage it in others.

Editor’s Note: Your will find Chris Dodd’s obituary on Beryl Crockford in The Guardian here.

Sydney Daily Telegraph published this.

One comment

  1. It should also be mentioned that as a schoolgirl, Beryl Mitchell (nee Martin) was introduced to the sport whilst a pupil at Gilliat School, Fulham and learnt to row at The L.C.C. Boathouse Barn Elms under the watchful eye of Miss. M. Lewis the school’s rowing coach.

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