Polly Whiteside Recognized for 30 Years of Work in Boston
By USRowing Staff • October 27, 2016
Still drying out her things from Saturday’s gale-force weather conditions at the 52nd Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, Polly Whiteside isn’t sitting back and enjoying the peace and quiet of life after the last boats crossed the finish line. Instead, this volunteer-extraordinaire is getting ready for her next event — the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta in Philadelphia.
“I am happy to volunteer wherever they need me,” said Whiteside. “Whatever they come up with, I am sure we will have plenty of fun.”
Whiteside, regarded as a “registration guru and a volunteer superwoman,” undoubtedly has earned the Clayton W. Chapman Award, an honor she will receive at this year’s USRowing Annual Convention in Springfield, Mass.
Presented annually to an individual who best emulates Chapman’s 30-year stewardship of the Eastern Sprints and IRA Championship Regattas, the award goes to an individual who has consistently served in a behind-the-scene administrative role that has previously gone unrecognized.
Her work, though the average rower may not know it, helps the country’s largest regatta run smoothly on a level that seems almost inhuman. Currently the head of umpire logistics, Whiteside has been involved with nearly every aspect of the Head of the Charles Regatta, including a restructuring of the registration system that has been adopted by other high-end events.
“USRowing could not have picked a more deserving person or a universally loved person,” said Kitty Grubb, a retired USRowing umpire who nominated Whiteside for the award. “For decades, Polly has been glorious to, and for, the sport of rowing but never gotten the glory. It’s about time!”
USRowing could not have picked a more deserving person or a universally loved person. For decades, Polly has been glorious to, and for, the sport of rowing but never gotten the glory.”
For Whiteside, the real value of her job lies in taking care of others. From saving umpires with winter clothes from her own closet to streamlining lines so that lightweight rowers could get through the registration process faster, Whiteside has selflessly, and without qualm, made the regatta a smooth and enjoyable process for all.
“I learned from my mother, who was a ‘fix-everything-yourself’ Girl Scout leader, and my father, who was a Philadelphia lawyer and battled Polio at age 12,” she said. “My mother was a handyman around the house, so I thought only girls did stuff like that, while my dad wouldn’t let people open doors or fuss over him and his crutches. They were a fabulous team, and they taught me a lot.”
From that upbringing, Whiteside has devoted a large portion of her life to the unsung heroes of regattas — the volunteers and umpires of the Charles. A fantastic volunteer herself, Whiteside has an uncanny way of knowing who will be good at what and work well with whom. Her work even culminated in one marriage and a baby who, believe it or not, grew up to be a Charles’ volunteer.
“Passion, creativity and reliability are traits which can’t be learned, but drive the volunteers who find they have those traits to fix the cracks in any operation,” Whiteside said. “They work to make their part perfect the next time, so those they serve can do their jobs better. They also enable their fellow volunteers to focus on creating a more functional operation instead of personnel issues, so their efforts move the operation forward.”
Jokingly referring to them as her “beloved umps,” Whiteside’s work for the 100 volunteer umpires is one of the biggest assets she offers. Spending months of time and effort to create the most enjoyable experience, Whiteside arranges orientation space, hotels, and three square meals a day, alongside countless other details that go completely unnoticed when things are running smoothly.
Whiteside understands that her efforts to make the regatta an experience for the umpires directly translates to how the athletes and coaches enjoy the event.
“Umpiring isn’t about penalties; it is about maintaining an even playing field,” she said. “When infractions could throw off a fair chance at a win, the umpires can return that equal chance. Safety and fairness are the regatta umpires’ goal. The presence of the umps creates an incentive for rowers to perform safely, thus the regatta attracts the world’s best, confident that their investment is protected.”
An avid member of Cambridge Boat Club, 2016 was a particularly exciting year for Whiteside as she travelled to Rio de Janeiro to watch her fellow clubmates Andrew Campbell, Joshua Konieczny and Gevvie Stone compete on the Olympic stage.
“Gevvie, Josh and Andrew are gracious co-members of my beloved Cambridge Boat Club, truly appreciative of the support and adoration they get from me and the other members,” Whiteside said. “It’s amazing that they are world-class athletes, yet everyday colleagues who help me run events for others. Watching Gevvie power through to her dream-come-true medal gave me confidence that if I can be that close to her, I can achieve such dreams too! Winning the Chapman Award is MY dream come true!”
While cheering on her clubmates however, Whiteside couldn’t help but take notes on how the large-scale regatta was handling its own operations.
“Headed to the Olympics, I couldn’t wait to see how history’s most honored and honed sporting event was run from the inside,” she said.
The Clayton W. Chapman Award is among several awards that will be presented Saturday, December 3, at the USRowing Annual Awards Reception at the Springfield Convention Center in Springfield, Mass. For more information about the reception, visit www.usrowing.org.