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mark and dawn hookway named british athletics volunteers of the year

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Mark and Dawn Hookway

28 November 2013

Following a public vote on the British Athletics Facebook page, Mark and Dawn Hookway were announced as the 2013 British Athletics volunteers of the year in recognition of their incredible work at Tonbridge Athletics Club.

Distance running coach Mark has overseen a period of huge endurance success at the club, as well as acting as a team manager for county and club teams. Meanwhile his wife Dawn has dedicated herself to officiating and coaching the next generation of Tonbridge success stories.

Despite this award though, Mark insists that the success of his own athletes is enough of a reward and instead cites the work of volunteers such as his wife as examples of how important volunteers are to athletics.

He said: “To be honest I don’t see what I do as volunteering because I get a lot out of coaching and team management which are the main things that I do.

“I see volunteers as being more like my wife who does the officiating, organises lots of open meetings, gathers officials together and supports other clubs’ meetings. People who do those sorts of things don’t necessarily get any recognition whereas a coach gets a reward from seeing their athletes run well and being mentioned alongside them.

“There are lots of people in the sport who volunteer that are real unsung heroes; I get recognised and thanked by athletes quite a lot and that’s the buzz I get. Although the award is nice, I do what I do because I want athletes that I work with to run faster and perform well.”

Hookway believes the success at Tonbridge has come about due to a wholesome approach that creates a feeling of being part of something more than just an athletics club.

“It started when I gave up competing myself and I got involved in coaching”, he explained. “As with all clubs Tonbridge survives on volunteers and I saw the bigger picture on top of the coaching about creating an environment where people feel wanted and part of the team and I think a lot of what we do feels that way.

“Young people in their late teens and early 20s have got to feel part of something and get some recognition for their performances; the more people we can do that for the better.

“Sitting on the club committee, taking the club shelter to various events, making parents and supporters feel part of it and organising trips is all part of creating an environment on top of the coaching. It’s important for people to feel special and a lot of what we do is aimed at that.”

This unique approach is paying dividends with unprecedented recent success in age group events, and Hookway is confident that it will also help the club’s senior teams to develop.

He continued: “Tonbridge has had fantastic national winning junior teams but haven’t had senior teams. However we’re gradually getting there with the senior teams because we’re retaining more young athletes and I think that’s partly due to the efforts that everyone puts into the club.”

It is perhaps unusual for a husband and wife duo to be involved so heavily in the same club, but Mark believes that Dawn’s involvement in athletics helps to support him in his endeavours.

He said: “I’m lucky with Dawn that she has come along and found her own niche. She’s one of those people that very rarely turn down helping people; that makes life difficult sometimes when you find out she’s going off to officiate at a meeting that has nothing to do with Tonbridge but in return she gets officials to come and help with our meetings.

“She’s helped Tonbridge get a reputation for putting on good open meetings and looking after officials and catering for them well; it’s created a community of people who help and support. From Dawn making the best cheese straws in Kent for officials, to dealing with the club kit things are done properly.

“Dawn knows how determined I am, it’s a real challenge getting teenagers to become really good senior athletes. We’re both lucky that we don’t have an employed job which makes a big difference so I treat this like a job and Dawn is very supportive of it.”

In the end though, Mark insists that their volunteering ultimately comes down to a desire to see athletes perform well.

“There’s not much in our lives as exciting as seeing someone win a national 1500m championship or a team win a National Cross Country Relay Championships as they did a few weeks ago; that gives you a real buzz. If you get that excitement in life it makes it all worthwhile and we both enjoy being part of it.”