This week Bill Carne spoke to Janine Williams, a mum of four who, at 64 years young, is regarded as one of the best Longboat rowers in the county – and rows in a Dragon Boat in Australia too . . .

At 64 years of age Janine Williams spends six months of each year in Australia and the rest of her time in this county - and in both she spends a great deal of time rowing to a very high standard.

Whilst in Australia with her family she has taken on the challenge of Dragon Boat racing and using the experience gained as an excellent rower in Celtic Longboats at Neyland Rowing Club - and although the techniques are a lot different she is able to transfer her skills to such a degree that she has earned selection for the well-known Dragon Boat section at Manly, one of the highest-regarded clubs in Brisbane and across the entire country.

"I had hoped to join a traditional rowing club but couldn't manage that so went along to the Dragon Boat section to enroll and was amazed at the high standards required of participants in their crews," explained Janine.

"The club is going to the world championship in Hungary and to qualify for selection team members have to attend three training sessions in the water each week, alongside one in a TKI - a single boat with outriggers; plus three sessions in the gym and a commitment to having no alcohol for six weeks before major competitions.

"When I started I had to show I could handle four different stringent tests like a 'three-mile plank', which is very arduous; bench pressing and a pull-up session of ten reps of at least half your own body weight, plus using a rowing machine over a two-mile distance to show endurance.

"So I was really pleased to be chosen in the team for the State Championships, where we won one silver and two bronze medals, and the National Championships, where we picked up one silver and one bronze medal.

"The races are different from our traditional longboat racing because they are sprint events over a distance of 200 metres, with 20 team members kneeling up to use paddles - a very explosive race indeed!"

Back home the longboat races are far longer, with a minimum of three to four miles, and much longer distances in races like the Thames Race over 22 miles or the Eddystone Race over 30 miles from Plymouth, round the Eddystone Lighthouse and back to terra firma on The Hoe.

Not content with such challenges, she has also rowed in the Arklow to Aberystwyth Race across the Irish Sea and braved the elements as the squad is enlarged and they take it in turns to man the oars and deal with the challenges that the Irish Sea inevitably throws at the boat over the course of 90 miles.

"We had a squad of 12, with a rib carrying us between the support boat and the longboat when our turn to row came up."

Outside of her rowing over the last two decades, Janine has always been involved in sport since her parents, Lois and Noel Reed, both Australians, instilled in their family the belief that there was nothing that girls couldn't do.

“We went as a family on sailing holidays in the Norfolk Broads and when I got older I began coaching volleyball and badminton in London, as well as starting up a girls' football team in a school she worked at which didn't go down particularly well since that sport had previously been frowned on for girls!

"I had also cycled as a youngster and started out again as I cycled 15 miles to and from work - and when we moved to Pembrokeshire the Pembrokeshire Velo had just started in 1982 and that season I was the fastest lady overall over 10 and 25 miles on a points basis.

“I am also taking part in a research project with King's College, London, which measures athletes over 55 on a range of areas to try and measure the ageing process.”

Janine started sailing at Dale Yacht Club, where her parents were already members, and with encouragement from John Reynolds got involved with coaching juniors - and such was their success in this venture that they eventually had seven members who were chosen to represent Wales, including Janine's daughter Angharad.

When she was 40 John Reynolds started Janine off in longboat rowing which had begun in Dale and in 2005 a ladies team from the club competed in the 'Return of the Cleddau' race from Haverfordwest to Neyland, a distance of 12 miles, as well as the 'Irish Ocean to City' race which ends in the city of Cork; 14 miles against the tide and wind - and they finished some 13 minutes ahead of the second ladies' team.

Eventually Janine was invited to join Neyland and since numbers had dropped off in Dale she joined as part of Neyland's mixed team alongside Sue and Phil Edwards, Jane Richards, Marcus Zipperton and Steve Rich, and there has been real success to celebrate, not least the fact that they were Welsh champions two years ago in the Supervets' Section where the rowers must have an average age of 50 or more.

"In 2015 we won the Dale to Haverfordwest race by a distance and some of the men's crews couldn't believe there were women in the boat - and we have really enjoyed competing in the Thames Race which means 22 miles rowing down the famous river.

"There were over 300 boats last year and it was an amazing spectacle," said Janine.

"We also competed in the 'Eddystone Race' from Plymouth, around the famous Eddystone Lighthouse and back to Plymouth, with terrific swells making it tough going, but enjoyable nonetheless!"

Janine trained as a coach some ten years ago and is kept busy in this special role she loves because of its creative aspect of improving skills in novice rowers with the aim of getting them to enjoy being on the water as much as she still does.

Chat to Janine for a short while and her enthusiasm is evident - and leads fellow team member Phil Edwards to tell us,

"We call her the 'Mighty Janine Williams' because she is inspirational, calm, assured, modest and always ready to give of her time - and has amazing stamina as one of the best rowers I have ever met."

High praise indeed from Phil and we can pay no higher compliment to someone who is a great advert for taking part whilst being close to her pension - and long may Janine Williams continue her sporting involvement in this county!