World Champion Ellen Buttrick steps up volunteering effort

The GB rower has been going above and beyond in the COVID-19 crisis


GB's PR3 mixed coxed four. Credit Nick Middleton

Last week, while many of us were still adjusting to social distancing and self-isolation, GB’s Ellen Buttrick (pictured above, far left) sprung into action. The Yorkshire rower – now based in Henley – volunteered to be her area’s representative for the Henley COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group and started handing out flyers of support.

“One of the reasons I wanted to get involved,” Ellen says, “is that I have charity experience already and I just like volunteering. The second is that I have quite a few members of my family who are isolating in different areas of the country and I’m not able to travel to them; by helping members of my community I hope people around the country will do the same.”

Ellen has also answered the call for NHS volunteers and is hoping to become an NHS responder, speaking to people who are isolated. Despite having moved to a friend’s house in Bath for the lockdown period, she is still organising help in Henley remotely.

“When I first started last week there was a lot to do, with lots of messages coming through,” she says, “but now everything’s settled down a bit. I do my training sessions, then go through my WhatsApp messages and respond to people. If anyone needs help I link them up with local volunteers on the street.”

For Ellen, two-time World Champion in the PR3 mixed coxed four, volunteering is second nature. Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, she spent her spare time outside of training supporting refugees and asylum seekers with charity Sanctuary Hosting as well as volunteering with Girlguiding UK – two organisations she’s staying involved with remotely through the current crisis.

It’s been a time of huge upheaval for GB’s rowers, who had their Caversham training base closed on Saturday and received news of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games being postponed on Tuesday. Ellen reflects on the resilience of GB’s Para-rowing squad through times of crisis: “As para athletes we’re pretty resilient because of what we’ve been through already; we’re used to things changing our life plans. I never expected to get a visual impairment, but it happened and now I’ve made the best of it.

“This pandemic is impacting everybody’s lives in some way, but we can’t change that. All we can do is make the most out of it and do our bit to help the country, and the world get through it. I am used to changing my plans without notice – one of the reasons I wanted to volunteer was to help other people cope in the same way.”

She thinks the focus that comes with being an athlete has helped her through the upheaval. “It is a bit strange at the moment because we don’t have a new date [for the Games] and so you don’t know what you’re going to be doing for the next 12 months – but then nobody knows what they’re doing. We’re lucky as athletes that we have training to focus on right now and a big goal to look forward to, but being busy with volunteering is really helping me as well.”

She jokes that social distancing has similarities to being on training camp: “When you’re away on camp you don’t see anyone else and you spend most of the time eating, training and lying down. Everyone’s living the athlete life now – my friends are all saying ‘I can’t go out’ but I never go out!”

Ellen’s using her daily outdoor activity to take up cycling, with her friend acting as a guide rider. Her top tips for others are: “Find something to achieve every day, however small. Speak to your friends and make sure you’re following a routine – everyone gives this advice but it really works.”

Ellen is part of the Women’s Sport Trust UNLOCKED programme, which pairs 40 elite athletes with 40 ‘activators’ made up of leading figures from business, sport and media to shape the future of women’s sport. The group are stepping up their activity with video calls and other networking activities while they’re training from home.

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