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It’s a long way from Dargaville to Mexico City

It’s a long way from Dargaville to Mexico City, and even further to Budapest – but those two cities are where Northland swimming official Carlrine Gillespie heads this year.

Swimming Northland chair Carlrine will work poolside at the Word Para Swimming Championships in Mexico in October and at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Budapest, Hungary in July.

International officials are picked from the FINA list, which Swimming New Zealand put Carlrine’s name on in January. Officials stay on the list for four years, then must reapply. Carlrine expected a long wait before any events came her way – New Zealand falls into the Oceania swimming region and international appointments are very rare.

But within the month she learned she’d been selected for Mexico, and a few days later, Budapest as well. “I feel really proud,” she says. “I’m from Northland, and I’m from Dargaville – it just goes to show that it can be achieved if you set your mind to it.” Husband Ross, also a swimming official, is on FINA’s open water swimming list.

Swimming New Zealand life member and past international swimming referee Ross Bragg says selectors would have recommended Carlrine to the FINA technical committee on the standard and quality of her work. He says officiating at a big international event is the same job, but also quite different in subtle ways. “It’s a matter of fitting in and working out what they want, how they want you to perform.

“The thrill of being there is just magic – and you’re working in facilities that are like a dream, compared to some here (in New Zealand),” he says.

The FINA World Championships will be held in Budapest from 14 to 30 July, at the new Dagaly Swimming Complex; and the World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City from 30 September to 6 October, at the Francisco Marquez Olympic Swimming Pool.

These two trips will be the first paid ones in her 14 years of officiating – everything else she’s done has been self-funded, including a five-day Para Swimming course in Singapore last year, and officiating at the Oceania Swimming Championships last year in Fiji. “Everyone assumes you get paid (for what you do as an official),” she says. “People ask me: ‘Do you have children swimming?’ and when I say no, they say, ‘Oh, does Swimming Northland pay you?’ “They can’t believe that someone does this as a volunteer. But everyone has a hobby, and this is mine.”

She is passionate about the sport of swimming, and enjoys the country-wide network and support system of fellow swimming officials, describing them as more like a family. It’s a role Carlrine stepped into reluctantly when nine-year-old daughter Taryn (now 23) was a swimmer, when she began timekeeping at Northland’s Rising Stars competition, an event for young swimmers where many parents find themselves taking on an official role for the first time.

In subsequent years, she avoided being roped into more senior positions but was eventuallyt talked into becoming an inspector of turns (IOT). Rising Stars, once again short of officials, prompted her to step up to judge of stroke and then referee, and she began applying as an IOT at national meets. From there she was persuaded to referee at national competitions, the first a New Zealand juniors meet in Hamilton. “I always swore I’d never be a referee. I was terrified. It was scary, but I also knew I had people around to support me”.

She took the advice of a fellow official to never turn down a job, to just do it . “And I’m thankful for that – sometimes.”

That mindset, of always stepping out of her comfort zone, has now launched the Dargaville woman into her latest and biggest adventure in the world of swimming officiation. “I’m going into the unknown - it’s going to be an eye-opener.”