The secret star who gives British athletes inside track

For three decades, Lorna Dwyer has been instrumental in helping the best of UK track and field talent behind the scenes – and fighting for increased diversity

INTEGRAL: Lorna Dwyer is key to the success of UK athletes

IT’S OFF season – a time to relax and reflect where track and field athletes are concerned, but they’re the lucky ones.

And that’s because people like Lorna Dwyer are working hard to ensure the next season flows as smoothly as the last.

It’s been this way for some 30 years, meaning that Dwyer is now part of the fabric of British Athletics.

You may know the stars of track of field, but there are few who know about the names and faces that are integral to the running of UK Athletics as well as Dwyer – but what, exactly, does she do?

The Voice tracked her down in order to find out.

EXCEL

“Yes, I’ve been involved with athletics for 30 years,” she says, with a big smile etched across her face. I’ve always been interested in sports. My family played netball, badminton and basketball, so I have always been around that circle and within school I al- ways enjoyed athletics. I wasn’t academic, I wasn’t top in English and maths, but I did excel at athletics and sports in general.”

That love for sport saw her leave school with only one thing on her mind. She recalled: “My friends would buy magazines full of pop stars and I was always buying Athletics Weekly because I was interested in the Linford Christies and the Colin Jacksons, those guys were my inspirations.

“So that was it, really, it started with the love of athletics. When I left school, I said to my mum that I didn’t want to go to university. My sisters went to university and they got their degrees as doctors, social workers and my mum said ‘fine, it’s not for everybody, but I wasn’t going to stop in the house not doing anything – I had to find work.”

For most, hunting for a career would mean heading to the job centre, but for Dwyer, things took a different turn. “I bought Athletics Weekly every week looking out for job adverts and then one day there was an advert for a receptionist at British Athletics, picking up the phone.

“I went for the interview and waited for the response. When it came it said, ‘unfortunately you have not been successful – however, we’d like you to join the organisation in setting up the office’, and I was like, yeah!”

Working as part of a tight-knit team of four meant wearing multiple hats but it wasn’t long before Dwyer found her niche.

“They could see that my character or my skills were more in leadership or organisation, so I set up the office and helped them to recruit staff,” she said. The role morphed into one with a lot more responsibility over the years.


LONG SERVICE: Dwyer, left, and with Dina Asher-Smith, right

She enthused: “As well as answering the phones, we still had to send Great Britain teams abroad to Italy, to Germany, and that was my role basically, getting a group of athletes that were selected to represent Great Britain, and making sure everything was done for them.”

The latter part of the 1990s were a period of intense restructuring, she added: “We didn’t even know what we were doing”.

“We were walking into the unknown and as the months went on we started recruiting other staff and finding our feet. I look back and I see people like Cherry Alexander and I remember when she came for her interview, and look where she is today, which is very good. I’ve worked with a lot of the top brass that have come through the doors.”

Elaborating on what Dwyer does behind the scenes and how integral her role is within the organisation, she said: “One of the roles that we do is ensuring our athletes are safe before they go out to an international competition. A couple of months before they go I would go and have a site visit.

“I’ll ensure safety is high up on the agenda, make sure that Great Britain has the best hotel, make sure we’re not too far from the track, make sure the transportation is good and I am also a glorified babysitter. Basically all we want the ath- letes to do it focus on perform- ing, and that’s what we do. I do look after the athletes, because that could be my sister, it could be my niece or nephew.

“I know what we as West Indies parents are like – you must go to school and get your education, they’re not worried about track and field. So when an athlete turns up late for their flight, for example, and my colleagues are saying he or she is always late, I’m able to say, hang on, before that athlete made his way to the airport his father probably said to make sure you’ve done this, that and the other.

“So I can relate to it and they look up to me and at least they have someone who understands it.”

INCLUSION

Dear to Dwyer’s heart, as well as athlete welfare, is the composition of the people that work for British Athletics. Bringing about greater diversity and inclusion is high up on her to-do list.

She enthused: “I’ve been in positions when I’ve been in rooms and on panels and there is no diversity. No one there can identify with how I am feeling. And for me, I think it’s very, very important. One, to be a role model, and two, to have this understanding.”

Hailing the work that for- mer track and field star Donna Fraser is doing to in her role as equalities and diversity lead, where she is addressing the lack of diversity within certain elements of the sport, Dwyer said: “Recently I have become an ED&I (equality, diversity and inclusion) advocate, which I believe is very important. It’s going to be another role that we’re going to put out there.

“I had an experience at the World Championships in 2017, where I was one of the team managers and I was going to the technical information centre, which is where we were going to look at some video footage from an appeal we were going to make.

“The gentleman who was doing the accreditation looked at me and said I couldn’t come in. I said ‘pardon’, he repeated what he said, adding that there was for team managers.

“I laughed and said, ‘sorry, you mean you want to see my accreditation?’ I showed him my pass and couldn’t deal with him how I wanted to at the time be- cause I had a job to do. It hit me later, though, that it was 2017 and it was still happening.”

She added: “I think that now Donna Fraser has come on board and she’s the equalities
and diversity lead at the moment, she is bringing about that awareness that we need to have greater representation across the board.”

Looking forward, Dwyer won’t be involved with track and field in this country for another 30 years, but she is clear on what she’d like to impart in terms of her continued contribution.

She said: “I find myself saying that’s the last Olympics I am going to do. At London, I said it. Rio came, I said it. I just don’t know (when I’ll call it a day). For me, I want to pass on my knowledge to those coming into the sport.

“I think it’s important to have that diversity, from team managers, physios, doctors, people on the board, it’s important because we are a diverse sport and we need that representation, we definitely need it.

“If my little bit that I have done for 30 years, if that can make a difference, then so be it. “I would like to see more diversity in management from the top to the bottom, the bottom to the top. That’s what I would like to see.”

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