Anyone who has been in rowing long enough - at any level - most likely has seen Tiffany Knapp or John Musial at a regatta. But even then, it's not likely that they would easily remember them.
That is the way it is with rowing officials. They are a force at every regatta. They wear blue jackets and shirts and their voices are the ones heard on the start line and on the water. They are the people waving a white flag to help steer crews veering into trouble, and they are first to any crew in need of emergency assistance. But, for all they do, they are mostly anonymous people in blue shirts with white flags and voices of authority, the background - and backbone - of any effectively run regatta.
So, when they are honored for their dedication to rowing and the professionalism they bring with them to every event, it is well deserved.
This weekend, at the USRowing Annual Convention in Sarasota, Florida, Musial and Knapp were among those recognized with one of the association's annual awards. Musial was named the recipient of the Julian Wolf Award, which recognizes a USRowing referee that "stood apart" from the rest of the referee corps over the last year. Knapp was named the recipient of the Joan Zandbergen "Mama Z" Award, given to a USRowing official that has "stood apart" from the rest of referees for the past three to 10 years.
USRowing honors 11 individuals annually at the convention for their contributions to the sport. The referee awards are nominated by and voted on by other USRowing referees. (Go here for a complete list of the 2017 USRowing award winners.)
Both Musial and Knapp have been involved in rowing for most of their lives, having rowed as juniors and then in college. And both were inspired to become involved in officiating by referees who came before them.
John Musial at the 2017 SRAA championship
This is not the first-time Musial has been nominated for the Julian Wolf Award, but it is his first time winning it. "It is humbling and a great honor and being recognized by my peers," he said.
Musial has been refereeing for the past 22 years, and over that time, he has officiated at 520 races. His first was the Frostbite Regatta in 1995, a race he had experienced first as an athlete. "I rowed it in the 80s," Musial said. "I've rowed it, officiated it, won it, lost it. I've done pretty much everything you can do at that regatta," he said.
The Philadelphia-based Musial is a familiar face on Boathouse Row and has been involved for most of his 22 years of officiating in the Scholastic Rowing Association of America. He was brought into officiating by the late Matt Ledwith, another Philadelphia rowing official who was deeply involved in scholastic and collegiate rowing for more than 27 years, and who mentored Musial.
Musial attending a FISA event
In addition to being a USRowing referee, Musial also serves as a FISA official at international regattas, but his favorite race is the SRAA annual championship.
"I thoroughly enjoy scholastic rowing, and my mentor Matt Ledwith ran the organization for a couple of decades," he said. "Now I serve on the board and run that event, and I always think back to how Matt brought me along through it."
Like Musial, Knapp was an athlete before she was a referee. After her collegiate career at the University of New Hampshire, Knapp began coaching juniors in the Northwest, but had to stop to focus on her career.
Knapp said she continued to row, but was losing "my connection" with the sport. She found her calling when she volunteered at an NCAA championship.
"I didn't remember referees from when I was competing in high school and in college and I volunteered at an NCAAs at Lake Natoma, and I kind of discovered this whole other area of rowing that takes place behind the scenes," she said.
"I was rowing still, but I didn't have that connection to the sport," Knapp said. "I looked around, and saw all these people having a really great time facilitating this really great athlete experience and I realized there was another way that I could be involved and give back to the athletes and help facilitate this sport that had given so much to me from my youth through my young adulthood."
Just this year, Knapp became a FISA official. She said she is looking forward to officiating for years to come. Of being recognized, Knapp said:
"It's a huge honor for sure. It was surprise and something that I am quite humbled and honored to receive. Being nominated and selected by your peers for something is defiantly a humbling experience."