Enniskillen Royal Boat Club’s coach, Derek Holland, had his hard work and efforts recognised last week when he was announced as the the Fermanagh winner of the 2020 Volunteers in Sport awards.

Derek picked up the Fermanagh award at the virtual 2020 Federation of Irish Sport Volunteers in Sport awards, which took place last week.

The awards champion the contribution, commitment and dedication of the army of 450,000 volunteers across the country who go above and beyond by giving their time to sport and physical activity each year.

Holland admits he was surprised to receive the award.

“I was a bit surprised, to be honest, but I was delighted to be nominated and to receive the award.

“It is nice to be acknowledged for the things that you do and especially in the last year when it has been difficult with being in and out of training and trying to keep the kids motivated and working away,” said Holland.

The past year has been a challenge, and Derek says that during the first lockdown it was key just to keep the rowers ticking over.

“At the start we put together programmes – nothing too major, but just enough to get them through because we didn’t know how long the first lockdown was going to be.

“As it went along and the schools were still closed, we could see that the season was just going to be destroyed and there wasn’t going to be much competition.

“A few of kids did a few virtual races on the rowing machine so they did a bit of preparation for that and the rest; we just let them do little bits of training to keep them ticking over,” he added.

With last season a wash-out in terms of competitions, focus quickly turned to this year and it is hoped that competitions will run again in 2021, although Holland admits that they are likely to be smaller than before.

“We got back out in the Summer, training again and doing little bits in preparation for this season, and things are still going quite well.

“They have been training quite hard but we just have to see how the next couple of weeks goes and see what is on the cards for the coming season.

“There is talk of an Irish Championships in the Summer, which we have to look forward to, and we are also hopeful for the British Championships and Henley Royal Regatta, so there are three big aims for the year if they all remain on, and fingers crossed that the kids get to some of them anyway.

“It is just a matter of how it is going to be run.

“I would imagine that the competitions will be on a much smaller scale than in previous years; they won’t be able to bring 30 or 40 clubs together to a competition.”

With the country back in another lockdown, though, Holland states that the club can’t put any firm plans in place yet and he doesn’t want to build up hopes of a competitive season when it might not materialise.

“We are just taking it day by day, to be honest, and we are just trying to keep them doing little bits and not putting too much pressure on them to go gung-ho.

’We don’t want to be picking up the pieces of pushing too hard and then turning around in six weeks time and everything is cancelled again, which is quite hard on the kids. We are just trying to manage their expectations as well,” he added.

To maintain their motivation and focus, the club members are currently taking part in a lockdown challenge at the moment.

“The kids are doing the challenge to raise money for Action Mental Health and the RNLI, and it is just a challenge to keep them motivated.

“They are trying to do roughly Malin to Mizen Head, which is 580 kilometres and they have five weeks to complete it, so their aim is to try and do 116 kilometres walking, cycling, running or rowing on the machine – any bits of exercise they can do to put up some kilometres.

“It keeps them mentally active and fit as well.”

And Holland is confident that when they are able to return to the water that the rowers will be in a good position to compete.

“We still have a very strong group this year and I just know that, with the training that we are doing, when we do get back out on the water we will be in a very strong position out there.

“We’ll just wait and see what the Rowing Ireland federation come up with in regards plans and what we are allowed and not allowed to do,” he said.