With Heart | For the love of sport

FOR THE LOVE OF SPORT: Rower Vicki Smithyman says the Wimmera River had “ a big part to play” in terms of life in the region, and was a drawcard for people moving to the country. Picture: SAMANTHA CAMARRI
FOR THE LOVE OF SPORT: Rower Vicki Smithyman says the Wimmera River had “ a big part to play” in terms of life in the region, and was a drawcard for people moving to the country. Picture: SAMANTHA CAMARRI

VICKI Smithyman is the embodiment of ‘getting in and having a go’ – whether it’s on the hockey pitch, in a rowing crew or teaching herself the finer points of cake decorating.

The Wimmera woman spent the first 25 years of her life at Dimboola before moving to Horsham for work four years ago.

Her family ties in the region are strong and Vicki enjoys being able to get out and socialise – that is, when she’s not working to pay off a mortgage.

Dimboola Hockey Club traditionally has strong women’s and men’s senior teams and are a force to be reckoned with.

Vicki, who has been playing with the club since she signed on for minkey – a modified version of hockey for children – at the age of four-and-a-half, attributes her team’s strength to consistency. Highlights of her hockey career include winning the Victorian State Championships when she was at school 12 years ago, and, last year, playing against the USA.

“Dimboola entered a women’s team in Country Week,” she said. 

“We lost, but the game was really close.”

The final score was USA, 1, Dimboola, nil.

“I think the reason our side is strong is because we keep the same players from juniors, through to seniors,” Vicki said. “Everyone’s really passionate and we also have a strong bond outside of the sport, and catch up.”

It’s a testament to Vicki’s passion for the game that she’s still playing.

At 28, she has four knee operations under her belt – the first one at just 18.

The second operation, at the age of 22, kept Vicki off the turf for a full season.

“With the third one, I had half a season off, and with the last one, I had three weeks off from hockey,” she said. “It has just depended on the specialist and what’s actually been done.”

Rowing is another of Vicki’s sporting loves and is something she said people of all ages could do, even if carrying an injury.

She began rowing in year 7 and, now, as a master, is able to row all year round, although the sport is generally summer-based and runs from October to May.

Last season, Vicki rowed in a scull by herself, and she also rows with younger sister Kelly Smithyman in a double. While it “depends on who’s around,” last year Vicki rowed in a quad crew with Jenni Brand, Kellie Laverty and Cat Clarke. John Nichols, a stalwart of Dimboola Rowing Club, first introduced Vicki to rowing at the age of 13.

While some hockey players tend to get “white line fever,” Vicki said rowing had a different atmosphere.

“It’s more laidback, with friendly country rowers,” she said.

Head of the Wimmera is a big event on the Victorian rowing calendar, and Dimboola is proud to be able to host the race again after a hiatus in the mid-2000s due to lack of water.

Vicki said the race covered a 6.2km course and was done via time trials.

“Just rowing up to the starting line is quite a nice view, which is why we do get some many crews coming from elsewhere,” she said.

“But mentally, it’s a challenge to row the course at a decent pace.

“You have some quite big bends in the river and some of the away teams have crashed into the bank.”

Rowing training at Dimboola is on a Monday, or a Thursday night during summer, with a 10am start on Sundays.

“When I’m rowing with Kelly, I set the pace, but in a quad, it all depends on the rowers you’re with,” Vicki said. “Generally, they put me at seat number three – the bow side – where they need a bit of power.”

While Vicki said rowing wasn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, for her, it was about the joy of getting out and trying something different.

“Also, the fitness side,” she said. “Rowing’s a dying sport, it’s not something many people are involved with, so it’s nice to be able to keep your local club going.”

Vicki said the Wimmera River had “ a big part to play” in terms of life in the region, and was a drawcard for people moving to the country. In a town like Dimboola, to Vicki, the small tightly-knit community meant bonding together.

“The footy players will also play tennis and basketball – you mingle,” she said. “Also, with 90 per cent of people being farmers, they try to have an outlet from work.”

Aside from sport, Vicki enjoys cake decorating.

“It started off as a hobby, and every now and then someone will ask me to make a cake for them,” she said. “When I had my fourth knee reconstruction, I thought ‘well, if I can’t play sport, I’ve got to have something else to do’.”

Mudcakes, or plain chocolate cakes are Vicki’s speciality.

“The best cake I’ve made, although I did have a bit of help from a neighbour, was my sister Kelly’s 21st cake,” she said. “It was a two-tiered purple fondant cake with fidgety flowers.”

Vicki’s cake decorating training has been fine-tuned via the internet.

“It’s all been from YouTube, or I might use a photo, and just have a go,” she said.

“If I go to shows, the first thing I’ll do is go and look at the cake pavilion.”

While entering agricultural shows may be on the cards sometime in the future, currently, the majority of shows clash with the rowing calendar.

“We were always taught, once you lose the fun out of sport, to give it up and try something else,” Vicki said.

“But I’m still enjoying my sport. You have to have a bit of a laugh, and not take it too seriously.”