OFFICIAL OF THE YEAR: Graham Kearns
At the recent Athletics NSW awards dinner, Illawong club administrator and Athletics NSW official, Graham Kearns, was named NSW Official of the year. In this interview we discover more about Graham’s involvement in the sport.
Athletics NSW: You are involved with a number of aspects of the sport - club administrator and technical official. Can you tell us about your roles and work at Illawong and Athletics NSW? When did you get involved?
Graham: Illawong Athletics Inc is the umbrella organisation for both Illawong Seniors and Illawong Little Athletics. Initially I became involved in Little Athletics when my first child started competing in about 1989. After a couple of years I joined the committee and over the years held positions of officer for championships, President and Vice President. I was also the zone treasurer for several years. During my time with Little Athletics I was also appointed to the Board of Illawong Athletics Inc and have been its chairman for quite a few years now.
When my children finished at Little Athletics I started trying to compete for Illawong Seniors at ANSW Club Premiership events. Unfortunately I couldn’t make most of the qualifying times or distances but I enjoyed the atmosphere and camaraderie. After a year or two I took up the role of treasurer for the senior club and still hold that position.
I started my official involvement with ANSW a bit by accident. I had thought about becoming an official but though I would leave it for a few years. That all changed in 2008. I was sitting next to Andrew Matthews at a club premiership meet at The Ridge Athletics Track running Illawong’s photo finish system. I casually asked Andrew if he thought it was possible for me to get some experience working with Janet Nixon and with other systems. I received an email a couple of days later asking if I could go to ES Marks the following Saturday, which I did. Before I knew it I was handed an ANSW shirt and I’ve been coming back ever since.
Athletics NSW: You have become one of the nation’s leading photo finish judges. Can you tell us about your interest in the position?
Graham: When I was very young I can remember looking at the photo finish images of horse races in the Sunday papers and wondering how they were taken and why the horses’ shapes were sometimes distorted. Many years later whilst doing my electrical engineering degree I did some industrial experience at a company called Automatic Totalisators Ltd. Besides building totalisators they also operated the photo finish cameras at some horse racing events. In those days they were still using photographic film. One of their employees showed me one their cameras and described how it worked. The questions of my childhood were finally answered.
During my time with Little Athletics I was appointed as the chief judge at local zone championships. Out of self-interest I started thinking about photo finish again – I even bought a solid state line sensor that I was going to mount in an old camera body and started designing the electronics to go with in. However, between work, family, athletics and other commitments I didn’t make much real progress.
My real experience began in 2007 when Illawong Athletics bought their photo finish system. My dreams had come true and I now had a real system to use. I jumped at the chance to use it wherever we could. Besides making life easier for judging and processing results the athletes love it as well, which is what it’s all about.
Athletics NSW: How did you get involved in athletics?
Graham: During my last few years at high school I started training and running in middle distance events at school carnivals. About the same time South Bankstown YMCA was opening and they started an athletics club. My brother and some of our mates joined up and started competing at interclub events. We even won the “H” grade premiership one year! After a few years all that faded a bit as people moved on. Even though I still had an interest in athletics, I really didn’t have any direct involvement until my wife suggested our first born should register for LAs.
Athletics NSW: Can you tell us about yourself? Family? Work? Interests?
Graham: My immediate family consists of my wife, Jenny, my brother, two daughters and one son and, as of last April, a granddaughter.
I trained for a career in electrical engineering and after graduation worked for a small company that built special purpose equipment, mainly in the areas of food processing and packaging. After seven years there I became a teacher at TAFE teaching electronics. I did this fulltime for five years and then part-time for another four or five years. During this part-time period I also did some freelance electronic design and construction. I then re-joined TAFE for another five years but this time I wasn’t teaching but in the area of curriculum development. My most recent employment change was to join a company that designs and builds medical equipment, predominantly in the area of treating sleep disordered breathing and I’ve been there for 13 years.
Other than family and athletics my main interest are bushwalking, travelling and photography.
Athletics NSW: Did you compete in sports?
Graham: During school and university days I competed at various times in athletics, soccer, hockey and basketball. I played cricket for one season when I was 10 but retired after getting hit in the head by a cricket ball whilst fielding at silly mid-on. The hockey coach at high school must have known about the previous cricket experience because he put in as goalie. I guess he figured I was used to getting hit in the head.
I played soccer until my late twenties and played for two seasons again during my late thirties. However, after a damaged knee one season and then a broken wrist the next I hung up my boots permanently. Cross country running sounded more civilised so I’ve done that as often as possible ever since.
Athletics NSW: What have been some of your highlights as an official and club administrator?
Graham: As an official, working at meets such as the Sydney Track Classic and state and national championships is always a special thrill. But on a more general note, working with Athletics NSW staff and officials has almost been like one continuous highlight. New technology is great but with it comes new challenges and I love taking on challenges. I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing something that you’ve been working on come to fruition and Athletics NSW staff members aren’t shy in presenting new problems to solve.
As a club administrator, watching athletes progress from club events and, if they have the talent and determination, through to the sport’s highest level is always a highlight. But just as important is the kid who is thrilled because they have achieved a personal best.
Athletics NSW: What are your goals?
Graham: My main athletics related goal is to keep learning and to development more skills as an official. I also want to be part of ensuring that the services we can provide for athletes and spectators are always evolving and improving.
David Tarbotton and Ron Bendall for Athletics NSW
Image: Graham Kearns (image courtesy of David Tarbotton)