Friday, June 3, 2022

Helen marks 10th Commonwealth Games in Birmingham - Volunteer Week Scotland

Helen Murray MBE, will mark 75 years of dedication to aquatics, with an appearance at her 10th Commonwealth Games, this summer in Birmingham.

Helen, who is in her 75th year as a member of the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association has appeared at nine Commonwealth Games so far in the guise of: technical official, coach, demonstration swimmer, as well as other voluntary roles. She will appear in Birmingham as a Team Leader as part of the Sports Information Team.

It highlights the opportunities that are available to those who are willing to work hard and turn their hand to any opportunity that comes along the way.

Helen said: “I’ve had such laughs and so many great experiences over the years – volunteering is so rewarding. You get out of it what you put into it.

“We’re all part of a jigsaw and it’s not complete until everyone does their part, and it doesn’t matter what that is – each part in important, and we’re greater than the sum of our parts.”

“Each event you take away something different. The 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester was quite interesting, and challenging. I was assisting Martin Woodroffe [former director of swimming in Scotland] who had taken over the management of the games.

“One of the challenges was accommodating the Indian women’s swimming squad, who had never swam in public before, due to their religion. It was challenging but a real learning experience, and we managed to go to the Speedo rep who kindly provided suits, which were more suited to their needs.”

A former President of the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association and the East District, Helen has been involved heavily in both the world of Swimming and Artistic (Synchronised) Swimming.

She started swimming, aged just 4, and continued up until her late teens as a competitive swimmer, before getting involved in coaching, and becoming a timekeeper.

When excitement in Edinburgh, and Scotland, was at fever pitch for the 1970 Commonwealth Games, Helen was hard at work as both a volunteer Artistic Swimming coach and a Swimming Judge.

The opening of the Royal Commonwealth Pool, and the Commonwealth Games themselves, brought a host of opportunities for athletes, coaches and volunteers, and Helen made sure she was riding the crest of the wave.

“It was so exciting having all the countries coming into Edinburgh. You got to see the faces of people that you’d only seen on television before.

“We knew all the Scottish swimmers, we knew the divers, we trained alongside them, and they dived on top of us! Having a 50m pool in Edinburgh was so important to the development of aquatic sport in Scotland, and it was just such a great time for us all.”

Helen featured as a swimming judge at the opening of the RCP, as the eyes of Scotland, Britain and the whole Commonwealth watched on – ahead of the games later that year. For her endeavours she received a commemorative medal from Princess Anne, who attended the packed-out event.

“Being a judge was very challenging as we’d only ever had to judge 5 lanes before, and then all of a sudden you’re having to judge 8 lanes, which tested us as it meant we had to keep 8 numbers in our heads!

“Princess Anne was very pleasant – she took time to speak with me at the pool and then we went down to Holyrood Palace after the event, for a reception, which was fantastic.”

In the lead up to the 1970 games she was involved in the creation of a Synchronised Swimming group in the East District, who along with compatriots in the West District, were invited to perform in a display as a demonstration sport, prior to its formal inclusion in the Commonwealth aquatics programme.

Helen continued to drive the sport forward, helping to form Edinburgh Synchronised Swimming Club, the year after the Commonwealth Games – the same year as Edinburgh Diving Club was founded, highlighting the monumental impact of the games on Scottish sport.

As the development of the sport continued, Helen continued to play her part, leading a Synchronised Swimming squad to the 1994 Commonwealth Games as Coach/Team Manager on a voluntary basis. This process began 4 years previous to the games, requiring incredible devotion from swimmers and Helen alike, with many of the group going part time at work or college to support their dream – a dream which was achieved by the girls.

Over many years Helen has a lengthy list of other accolades and experiences to her name, brought about through love and dedication of the sport. These include an appearance on the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list as an MBE, being awarded President’s Plate for services to the East District and a Champion of British Sport medal. Helen was also a LEN and FINA Synchronised Swimming judge for 15 years, appearing at the World and European Championships, as well as the Commonwealth Games.

After moving back to the world of competitive swimming in the 1990s she spent over a decade Team Managing Junior and Senior GB squads all around the world, of which Helen said, “You wouldn’t believe half of the stories!”

As a Team Manager Helen had to deal with everything from lost luggage, to dealing with unhappy athletes, to informing swimmers of upsetting family matters. They are experiences that live on with Helen.

“An interesting experience when I was Team Manager was when we were on a training camp in Sharjah in the UAE, and the University compound we were training at had armed guards, who wouldn’t accept our paperwork at the gate. It was a really scary experience, especially with their guns and whatnot.

“Eventually we got in, but it was a bit of a culture shock for us. It’s all part of being a Team Manager though, sometimes you have to think or your feet and adapt to these situations.”

Still heavily involved in the running of swimming events in Scotland, Helen sits as chair of the organizing committee for the Edinburgh International Swim Meet and can often be seen hosting guests at National Events, including at April’s Scottish National Age Group Championships.

It is something she is still incredibly passionate about, regularly in attendance at the Commonwealth Pool, where she is a well-known face.

As she prepares for her role at yet another Commonwealth Games this summer, Helen emphasised the importance of volunteers, and why people should consider giving their time to support aquatic sport, Helen said: “Aquatic sport simply couldn’t be run without volunteers. It’s becoming difficult as people maybe aren’t prepared, or used to, giving up as much time as they did in the past, but it’s well worth getting involved.

“Volunteers are the stalwarts of the sport, and SASA wouldn’t exist without them, it’s really important that that is acknowledged and that all volunteers are rewarded equally.

“If you’ve got a child who is involved, then it’s a great opportunity to give up some of your time. There are so many opportunities. If they enjoy it at a local, or national level, and then when their child moves away from the sport, then the parent may find that they quite enjoy being part of the sport and carry on helping out.”


If you are interested in volunteering within Aquatic Sport click here for more details