A Different View is All It Takes

A coxswain for over a decade, it only took only one afternoon in a launch for Melissa Chun to decide that is was time to swap her cox box for a megaphone and become a member of the USRowing referee corp.

Strong current, no buoyed lane lines, and plenty of pleasure crafts were just a few of the challenges that met Chun, a volunteer launch driver, and USRowing referee Michael Rosenbaum at the 510 Sprints in Oakland, Calif. The experience was so unique, that it made Chun curious about viewing regattas from a new seat entirely.

“I decided to become a referee when I was a launch driver for the 510 Sprints Regatta,” said Chun. “Needless to say, the referees had quite a bit to oversee. This is where I was first paired with Michael, and I almost threw him overboard in the john boat when a crew caught a crab in front of us. Spending time in the boat with Mike and seeing the regatta from this new perspective piqued my interest in refereeing.”

A different view is all it took for Chun to set out on a new path. Though relatively new to refereeing, she has already made a significant impact and is the recipient of the 2016 Joan Zandbergen “Mama Z” Award winner, given to a USRowing official who has demonstrated sustained superior performance during their career. The award is limited to referees with three to 10 years of service.

Celebrated for her positive attitude and organization, Chun worked the last three NCAA Women’s Rowing Championships and was the deputy for the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association and will chief the event in 2017.

Chun ultimately joined the USRowing Referee Corps as a way to support athletes and give back to the rowing community. Chun started her rowing career 15 years ago as a coxswain for her high school team at Serra Notre Dame and Mercy in San Mateo, Calif., before being recruited to the women’s rowing team at the University of California and winning the NCAA Division I Championship in 2006.

After college, she joined Jack London Aquatic Center and was the assistant coach for the high school program in 2009 and middle school rowing program in 2010.

Chun’s ability to recognize that rowers of all ages and backgrounds are needed to continue these important roles makes her a special advocate to the men and women in the navy blue blazers.

“We need more referees in general,” said Chun. “Our sport is growing, and we need diverse experiences and backgrounds to represent our increasingly multi-generational and multicultural sport. We need both young and experienced referees to help provide different perspectives and thought processes.  

“A diverse referee corps is the only way we can continue to grow, to be more dynamic, to be more inclusive, and to be more relevant,” she said. “Although young referees are on the other side of the fence now, they know the hard work and effort that each rower puts in every day.  Young rowers have the advantage of remembering sweaty palms at the starting line, the tremendous victories and steep losses. I think this experience can help bring new ideas on how to make our sport even better.”

Chun, humbled and honored to be recognized with the 2016 Mama Z award, could not help but reminisce that this award was not only for her but for her many mentors and teachers who have helped her become a better referee.

“This is more of a reflection on my mentors and the referees who have guided me,” she said. “They told me to keep my head on a swivel, take copious notes, be fierce like Beyoncé and get on the water as much as possible.”

The USRowing Annual Awards Reception honors the best in the year of rowing and will be held Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. The night will begin with a cocktail hour, followed by the presentation of awards. For more information on this year’s 2016 USRowing Convention Annual Awards Reception, click here. Read about the other award winners and the 2016 USRowing Club of the Year.

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