New world championships director wants community to row together.
Bounding out of a room at her new headquarters, a trailer at Nathan Benderson Park, Meredith Scerba was more than bubbly as she began an interview to talk about the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
Scerba was hired as the event’s new event coordinator, a big job since she has to coordinate more than 1,000 volunteers while getting the event on everyone’s radar even though rowing doesn’t rank high as a spectator sport in the United States.
Scerba, who moved this month from Cleveland, spoke to the East County Observer about her now job.
Rowers tend to be tall, but you appear to be about 5-foot-2. Were you a rower?
No, and I wasn’t a coxswain either. But I have been in the sports industry for 14 years. When you are running an event as big as the World Championships, you really need knowledge about how to run a big event, not necessarily sports knowledge. You have to know how to market an event, operations, hotel accommodations, fundraisers, sponsorships. The business side is what I am being brought on board to do.”
Even so, you probably had to take a crash course in rowing?
When I started interviewing, I read “The Boys in the Boat (about the University of Washington nine-man team that represented the United States in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and won the gold). Then I dove into it in France at the 2015 World Championships Aug. 30-Sept. 5.
What was it like visiting the world championships?
The thing that really impressed me was how massive an event it was. You look out at the uniforms and you have Russia standing next to China standing next to the United States. Regardless of whether you are a rowing fan, when you have that at our location, you have something unique. It’s cool.
What else did you learn in Aiguebelette, France?
I went in thinking, ‘What can we do to make this the best event?’ Venues always are different. It’s about understanding challenges. One thing would be how they had the tents set up for the athletes with the doors facing away from each other. I envision it as more of an athletes’ village like you would see at the Olympics. We want to have a place where they will feel the camaraderie. I also think that it helps that here everything is a little more centralized.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Why should people in East County care about the event?
Seventy-seven countries were represented in France. Over seven days, the 2017 World Rowing Championships is expected to have a $25 million economic impact on the area. We are going to have people from all over the world here. It will be a great thing for the region.
Economic impact is nice. What else?
It is the first time this event has been back in the United States in 23 years when it was in Indianapolis. It is a unique opportunity to shine as a community. And these athletes are absolutely unbelievable. If you see what their training regimen is, wow. I thought as a swimmer that we worked hard. “
So you weren’t a rower, but a swimmer?
I swam all the strokes because our coach liked you to be versatile. I grew up in Pinehurst, N.C. and my parents lived on the Pine Needles course. Yes, I played golf.
As an athlete you admire the rowers?
This is about the uniqueness of the sport. Swimming is more independent. If one of the rowers is off, even just a tiny bit, it messes up the whole boat. The teamwork is on another level. It is so technical. Every movement counts. To me, that is intriguing.
So how can the community help?
We reach out to people in the community. We want to let them touch and feel it.
There are sub committees of people who help plan the event. Another part is just supporting the event by coming out and watching the world coming to our backyard. Jobs range across the board. We will need greeters and tickets sales people and people to help the athletes navigate the village. We will have people at the hotels answering questions. All these people will be acting as ambassadors for the community.
How many volunteers will you need?
We are just launching our effort to get volunteers. We need roughly 1,000 volunteers and we will be going out now and trying to get people involved. It’s all in the way you encourage them. They are part of the team. You make sure you feed them, cloth them. There are some perks. These events don’t happen without them.
Do you think it will be hard to find volunteers for rowing?
It’s about educating them. You allow them to understand that this is a great event to get behind. It is an experience, a fun day out. They will get value out of this experience. We want this to be like a Cheeseburger in Paradise Festival. Kind of a Jimmy Buffet feel with bands and a festive atmosphere.
Do you like your facilities at Nathan Benderson Park?
Through research, I can tell you this is a Grade A course, the only one in the United States. The conditions are perfect here, the depth … very deep so the water flow is better. The ripples go down into the water. The park is well protected.
Are ready to gear up for the push toward 2017?
This facility is hosting the U.S. Olympic Trials in March. We are going to use that event as our launching pad. We want people to get excited while they are already excited.
How do you keep that momentum?
That’s on me.
Do you put this event on and then find another event somewhere else in the United States?
The hope is that I can run amazing events right here. My goal is to stay in the area. I worked for my last company 10½ years.
Will we be seeing you around East County?
I’m pretty outgoing and I am active in the community. I utilize the skill sets I have to be impactful in the community. I hope to get further engaged. I want to give back.
So do you have time for a hobby?
Our first purchase when we moved here was a stand-up paddle board. We’re big boaters. We also love to work out, run and bike.
Being from Cleveland, are you concerned about alligators?
I didn’t have an opinion about alligators, and these guys (coworkers) educated me. They said alligators don’t like the smell of oils that we put on a board. Sounds like they stay clear.
You’re still bouncing around after an hour interview. Does that wear you out?
I think anyone who knows me can tell that’s who I am. I am extremely passionate about what I do. I think you do what you love, and the rest will follow. The last 14 years, I have done exactly what I wanted to do.
What is your biggest concern?
The biggest challenge for me is that in my previous job, I knew all the players and what to do. I am learning, and meeting everyone, adapting relationships.
You must have plenty of time with 2017 pretty far away?
It’s around the corner. The clock is ticking.