Q&A: Helen Withers – Chief Sector Marshal


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Did you know there has to be a minimum of 526 active marshals situated around the TT course before a bike can leave the Grandstand? That’s quite a number isn’t it!The guys and gals in orange that you see during TT & MGP/Classic TT fortnight are all volunteers, and without them, the races simply can’t take place.We had a brew with Helen Withers, Chief Sector Marshal to chat about her experiences over the last 28 years and how you can get involved…

Hiya Helen! So tell Gef, how long have you been marshalling for?

I started marshalling when I was 16 years old, so 28 years ago – yikes ! I grew up with bikes going past my parent’s front garden and with my dad also a marshal, it seemed only natural to start volunteering. My dad will not want me to say this and but he has been marshalling for well over 40 years. He has lots of stories to tell!2 years ago I was asked to take on the role of Chief Sector Marshal (CSM) for Sector 2, which was a great honour.For those who don’t know, Sector 2 runs from the bottom of the Ballahutchin to just past Greeba Castle.

Helen Withers

Amazing, that’s quite a length of time. What changes have you seen over your years of marshalling?

There’s been lots of changes over the years and mostly all positive; the introduction of better equipment, better flags, training, the lovely orange tabards and most importantly the TETRA radios – giving us a much faster communication tool, definitely better than the landline phones we used to have!

Whereabouts on the course do you marshal?

I have always marshalled in Sector 2, since I started and for the main part at Crosby Church Hall, just on the entrance to the village. However, since taking on the role as CSM, I find the best & most suitable point to be positioned is at Crosby Crossroads, just before the pub.In my role as CSM, I also need to get out and about the sector to see things in action and also meet the people who marshal for me.

Do you marshal for the full duration of TT & MGP?

In my position as CSM, I do marshal for the full duration for both TT & MGP/Classic TT

What would you say it takes to be a marshal?

It really takes someone who is happy to volunteer to ensure that there is safe racing on the course – it does need common sense! Flexibility is key too, as I will often have to ask people to move around the sector so that we can fulfil our manning levels at each point.It is definitely not just to get the best spots to watch, as there is a responsibility & professionalism for marshals to take on and understand what their role will be should an incident occur. More importantly learning from your experiences and other marshals.I do believe that you can give someone the appropriate training, but it’s only when you are on the ground, doing your duties that you start to learn properly.

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Do you keep in touch with the marshals from your sector all-year round?

Firstly, I have a dedicated & trusted team of Deputy Sector Marshals (DSM) who assist me in running the sector. With the sector actually split into sections, it allows them to manage a smaller part of the sector easily and report back to me any issues/concerns.I will hold regular meetings with the DSM’s before & after a race meeting to let them know any changes or information that I have been passed on and, more importantly, get their feedback.When I took over as CSM, I set up a Facebook group for my Sector. It is so helpful to let everyone know what is going on before, during & after the two fortnights a year.I am a great believer in communicating with everyone. It is very rare that I am not able to share what I know and it also gives everyone an opportunity to add their own stories, experiences and pictures from their time marshalling.It is great for networking too and many friends are made when we are out marshalling together!MarshalBefore & after each fortnight I will contact everyone who will be/has marshalled to say ‘Thanks’ and ask for any feedback they might have. With this we can only get better ! ☺

Do you have any international marshals in your sector?

We definitely see a great deal of marshals now from all parts of the world. Over the last couple of years, this has grown from as far afield as New Zealand and the USA, Italy, Germany and many from all around the UK.We all become friends in some kind of way and I have had offers to visit their country in return. There is not many places that you will see such a diverse range of nationalities all volunteering for the same reasons.

Is there any training involved in becoming a marshal?

There is training on offer, an Incident Management Course that covers everything race related. This includes how to use all the flags available, how to use the TETRA radios and how to deal with an incident or casualty. You can even have training on how to load a helicopter!There is also on the ground training in your own sector and even before racing/practice starts there is a lot of organisation that needs to happen to ensure each marshal knows what they are responsible for is in case of an incident.

Helen Withers

How do you deal with difficult situations when they occur?

We have had a number of incidents to deal with in Sector 2 over the years. The outcomes are all different and some are not easy to deal with. You definitely find that the experienced marshals have an automatic switch to get into action when there is an incident. I am extremely lucky in my sector with my regulars being stationed at the ‘hot spots’ and they instantly know what to do each time. And of course we have support from Travelling Marshals, paramedics and the doctors in AirMed helicopters.There is a lot of preparation, practice and more practice that happens in case of an incident. The team who has dealt with an incident will always have a debrief with their DSM, this can happen at the roadside, but in most instances at the local pub. It definitely gives people an opportunity to talk about what they have dealt with.We can also seek assistance from the Chief Medical Officer for the race meeting, for any additional support that might be required, and it is always good to take advantage of this support.

What’s one of your favourite memories as a marshal?

My most favourite memory is from 1992 (long time ago I know ☺) as I remember the sun shining for the whole fortnight (doesn’t happen a lot!) and the fantastic racing between Carl Fogarty and my hero, Steve Hislop. Also, getting to meet all the people I have had the pleasure of working with who regularly volunteer for me in Sector 2. I just can’t thank them enough for their dedication each year!

If anyone would like to get involved and become a marshal, how should they get in touch?

We’re always looking for new marshals to get on board so if you’d like to join our team, register your details here and we’ll get right back to you. If you have any questions you can fire them over on our Facebook page  or call us on (01624) 618191 for a chat.More information on marshals can be found here.var bannersnack_embed = {“hash”:”b7xuqctzy”,”width”:697,”height”:280,”t”:1556546218,”userId”:38193901,”responsive”:true,”type”:”html5″};//cdn.bannersnack.com/iframe/embed.js