Swimming Victoria has a new president, and she’s the first regional one, bringing a wealth of experience with her from her swimming journey, which began about 10 years ago.
Michelle Harris became involved with swimming when her children did so in the pool, joining the committee of her local club at South Gippsland Bass.
With a passion for becoming a community sports volunteer, Harris, who has worked extensively with GippSport, which has offices in Traralgon, soon learnt how to become a technical official for swim meets, before becoming the secretary of the club.
Over the last 10 years, Harris has continued to climb the swimming ladder, and after about five years at her local club, she decided to give the next step a try – becoming the vice president of Gippsland Swimming.
She held this position until she was approached to join the board at Swimming Victoria.
“I was approached to join the Swimming Victoria board two years ago and have spent time on that and I’ve had the experience with the technical officiating,” Harris said.
“It has been great to be a part of a state sporting association because they set the policy in terms of the future directions of sport.
“The biggest learning is being part of all the conversations happening at that strategic level, so I can use my local club experience and bring that to the table.”
On top of her board duties at Swimming Victoria, Harris got further involved, becoming Swimming Victoria’s Technical Committee Chairperson.
She found ways to make technical officiating fun and inclusive for new people while progressing the technology used, which is still in a transition period.
“I combined my two passion areas: advocating for rural and regional Victoria … and then my technical officiating side,” Harris said.
Harris will combine all of the skills she has developed over the last 10 years into her new role as Swimming Victoria President.
She found herself in a position she didn’t expect, but with the additional support of friends, family and colleagues, soon became comfortable with taking another step forward.
“It’s interesting because I’m a gender equality advocate, it’s funny because as a woman we tend not to put ourselves forward, so I never saw myself, in the short term, in that role,” Harris said.
“I was really lucky that I had a lot of support saying I would be a great representative or a leader as a president, then I was able to see myself stepping into that (presidential role).
“I really feel comfortable advocating for other people, but it was great to receive some support from other people … I felt overwhelmed with the amount of support.”
Harris has worked closely in gender equality, encouraging women to get into leadership positions and improving the equality line in all community sports. She says she has no plans of slowing down that agenda now that she’s president.
“In Gippsland, I worked with Gippsport … we run women’s leadership programs and governance training – all of that here in Gippsland,” she said.
“We can see that women are underrepresented in leadership roles, in swimming that could be local club presidents and things like that, also in coaching.
“In the officiating side, often you won’t see women stepping up into the senior roles, they’ll do the announcing or they’ll be … in the less-experienced roles, because they’ll need a bit more of encouragement or support to take that step up.
“We fear judgement, but we may have the skills and confidence to do the roles, but we’re making great progress I think.”
Harris believes that her position as a female president can only encourage more women to take the next step and put their hat in the ring for senior positions, as a true believer in the saying: “You can’t be what you can’t see”.
As president, Harris will lead the board of Swimming Victoria, and remains committed to the Technical Officiating Committee – embedding technological changes such as ‘Hawkeye’ and the use of technology – like iPads – instead of paper.
She hopes to continue to build a diverse representation across the board, bringing more women into senior roles and helping them get there.