A WOMAN has been made captain of Leander Club for the first time in its history.
Olympic double silver medallist Debbie Flood will take on the role from January 1, succeeding Rick Egington, who was captain for three years.
Flood, 32, of Deanfield Road, Henley, was elected by her fellow athletes.
She said: “It’s a fantastic honour — Leander is my home, it’s where I came of age in rowing, and I’ve carried out my entire senior career within the club.
“I want to get involved in the heart of the club, be a good role model and keep the club progressing.
“I want to continue to integrate the whole group of internationals and development athletes, so that the younger ones can aspire to the achievements of the GB team and feel that if they’ve got what it takes to get into Leander then they’ve got a path forward to achieve.”
Flood, who finished sixth in the quadruple sculls at London 2012, was a GB junior judo international and county level 1,500m runner in her native Yorkshire before she took up rowing.
She won a junior world bronze in 1998 which was followed by under-23 golds in the following two years and promotion to the senior GB team in 2001. Since then she has won three world championship golds in the women’s quad and two Olympic silvers — in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.
Flood has won three titles at Henley Royal Regatta and became the only British woman to win in the Princess Royal Challenge Cup in 2000.
She hopes to pass on her experience to up-and-coming athletes. Flood said: “As with everything in life, you get your ups and downs and it is the same in rowing where sometimes you achieve your potential and sometimes you don’t because of obstacles such as injury but that is character building.
“I have been rowing now for 15 years and I have had good and bad times and times where I have been disappointed. Everyone will experience that so I can relate to them whether they are at the top or the bottom of the tree.
“I am very much a people person and will be very interested in what the athletes are doing. Although I won’t be involved in the coaching, I will be having my finger on the pulse and will be where I am needed.”
Flood is a member of Greyfriars Church in Reading and says her Christian beliefs are important to her.
She said: “God has given me these abilities and let me use them and it’s my responsibility to try to inspire others to achieve and act as a role model in schools and churches.”
Since moving to Henley 10 years ago, she has become well known in the community, giving talks in schools and supporting charities, and in 2008 she won a Sue Ryder women of achievement award.
She works with exercise guru Lizzie Webb, from Kingwood, in Creativity in Sport, a programme designed to use sport to help younger people with troubled backgrounds engage back into society.
Next summer, she will return to her job as a prison officer at Huntercombe Prison, which she first took up during a break from rowing after the Beijing Olympics.
Flood said: “I really feel blessed with the opportunities I have had in Henley and although my mum wouldn’t like me saying it, Henley is my home now and is where my opportunities have come from, both in and out of rowing.”
Despite stepping down from international competition, Flood will continue to row and she has represented Leander Club four times since the Olympics.
She said: “I am very much involved in club stuff and you will definitely be seeing me at the royal regatta for a few years yet.”
Mark Banks, who is director of rowing at Leander and has coached Flood for 10 years, said: “Debbie will bring special qualities to this role, where it’s so important to inspire the younger athletes as they take their first steps in this very high-performing environment.
“Leander is unique in combining so much international talent with less experienced juniors, all under one roof, and the role of captain is to bring those groups together.
“There’s always the possibility that the younger guys could feel overawed by the success of their seniors and the captain’s role is to help nurture and inspire the development athletes to improve their own performance. Debbie is ideally placed to do just that.”
Robert Treharne Jones, Leander’s press and publicity officer, said: “Debbie’s election as the first female captain in almost 200 years is a historic landmark for the club.
“It wasn’t that long ago that women were first elected to club membership but our women athletes are now a core part of our sporting endeavours, with more than their fair share of medals at every level.”
Egington, 33, of Upton Close, Henley, said it had been an “honour” to captain the club and his favourite occasion was the annual royal regatta.
He said: “Being at Henley is always a high point for me. People in the town are quite passionate about it.”
Egington won an Olympic bronze medal in the GB men’s eight in London and a silver in Beijing.
Previous club captains include Olympic champions Steve Williams, Mark Hunter and James Cracknell.