My President’s Report was circulated to the membership as an integral part of the 2020 AGM papers. Obviously the AGM could not be held. In this light a few people and Glyka, my adoring dog, have suggested posting it separately as a reflection upon the unusual times our club and our sport are enduring.
President’s Report 2020
Back in November 2019, my Presidential year got off to a promising start. Whilst the AGM was tinged with sadness as we viewed the seat left vacant by the still painful loss of Fred Pearce, Dave Evans’ address painted a picture of cautious optimism. Following in the recent footsteps of Fred and Christine Pearce I was honoured to be President, sixty-seven years after my first appearance at a club race held at the Hindley Green Labour Club in 1953. I was amazed as well to find myself winning a yacht handicap from scratch – one for my record books.
When I made my next appearance on English soil at the Sam Shoebottom 10 kilometres in February positive feelings still prevailed. We were supporting races across the Pennines and had kicked off the year with a team victory at Drighlington, featuring Adrian Edwards, Tony Malone, Tony Bell and Phil McCullagh. Following Andrea Lennon’s nailbiting triumph at Simister in the Sam Shoebottom event, Dave Evans spoke of the tremendous boost to morale, provided by Adrian’s organisation of much-needed indoor training. Pat Evans was as ever a reassuring presence on the road and in the canteen. A few weeks later new recruit Martin Payne conquered the Chorley hills, although sadly we were bidding farewell to the St. Peter’s club, which through the good offices of Eric and Dave Crompton had become a home from home. With an alternative Chorley venue in the pipeline, all seemed well.
Then, dramatically, out of the blue, whether from heaven above or a Chinese laboratory, the Covid virus and the government’s bungled response to its emergence have transformed our day-to-day existence. The early April Macclesfield Shield 10 miles was postponed, then cancelled. Since then despite a serious effort led by Roy Gunnett to mount the Albert Rigby 10km in October, frustrated by Covid-demanded alterations at the venue, all of our 2020 fixtures have been postponed and ultimately cancelled.
In the face of such a depressing scenario, a measure of relief was afforded via an invaluable intervention by Andy Drake on behalf of the National Centre for Race Walking. He came up with the notion of a Virtual Series of races to be held throughout April and May, the distance to be covered progressing from 2 to 5 km. Inspired by this intervention John Constandinou and Helen Elleker created a complementary 2 km Virtual Series, which continues until this very day. Not to be outdone we ourselves initiated our own club Virtual Series beginning in May with a 3 km challenge.
Undoubtedly these Virtual Series have thrown a significant lifeline to the sport, prodding us to keep training, never mind prompting us, albeit sometimes reluctantly, to fit in a fast session each week. It would be invidious to highlight any particular individual performances by our members, given that these are in essence time trials, not judged and completed on different courses. Nevertheless, from a collective point of view, our club should be proud of its conspicuous support for these psychologically important ventures. Indeed in the very first of the National Centre Series, we finished 2nd team behind Surrey in both the Open and the Age-graded categories and we’ve continued to be at the head of events ever since. In the 2k Series, across a period of 30 weeks, we have been the dominant Age-graded team, a model of consistency. Speaking of consistency, it would be amiss not pay tribute to both Guy Goodair and Tony Bell for their commitment to the cause across the last six months and more. As best I can see Guy has not missed a single week and established himself as the foremost competitor in the over 80s age group.
Closer to home our own Club Series has been enlivened by the attention of athletes from other clubs and countries. We’ve appreciated enormously the enthusiastic involvement of the Scotia Race Walking Club, courtesy of Bill McFadden’s endeavours. It has ensured that we’ve had a ding dong team race throughout… and Scotia has now and again put us in our place! A particular mention is due to long-lasting friends, who can always be counted upon – Glyn Jones, Martin Fisher, John Constandinou, Ray Robinson, Dennis and Graham Jackson. To our delight Mario Bernatzki from Germany and Mary Pusateri from the USA have given us an international dimension to proceedings.
In the midst of the turmoil, I should mention two special moments where we have remembered with enormous affection Dave Crompton and Fred Pearce. Upon the cancellation of the Dave Crompton Memorial Trophy, John Crahan suggested that as many of us as possible should walk 7 miles or 7 km over that very weekend. There was a wonderful and touching response which is recorded on our website. As for the Fred Pearce Relay, it seemed impossible to overlook its pivotal presence on the calendar. Hence, informed by Dave’s exceptional handicapping we held a Virtual FP relay, within which only 2 seconds separated the first and second teams. What a race that would have been in the flesh!
Back in late March, concerned about how we might stay in touch with one another, I ventured the possibility that individuals might share their personal reminiscences, based upon but not limited by these questions. What prompted you to take up race walking? When and where was your first race? What’s your favourite race and why? Which performance has given you the greatest satisfaction? Inspiration for the exercise was provided by a couple of anecdotes from Maurice Ireland, who was at that time recovering from a stroke. Fittingly our indefatigable chair, Dave Evans was the first to set the ball rolling. Since then we’ve had some marvellous pieces from the likes of Guy Goodair, Tony Bell, Martin Payne, Marion and Peter Fawkes, John Crahan, Roy Gunnett, Dennis Jackson, John Cannell and Tony Malone – a wonderful diversity of athletes from the famous to the infamous, all with fascinating tales to tell. So too we’ve added historical pieces such as Ron Wallwork’s Recollections and paid tribute to those, who have passed on, such as Colin Young, Ann Sayer and Ray Manning. In a small way, I think the web site is becoming a valuable addition to the British race walking scene as a whole.
Without doubt, the lockdown encouraged reflection on the past, present and future of the club. Thus, in late June we received a challenging, even controversial contribution from Chris Bolton, a leading light in the renaissance of the club in the mid-1960s. Amongst his proposals were that our One Hour track walk should become a flagship event, our contemporary novice race and a recruitment opportunity; that we consider seriously moving our HQ to a venue with both a track and adjacent race-friendly roads: and that we consider a change of name to the Lancashire Race Walking Club. These suggestions engendered a lively and necessary debate. Frustratingly, though, with the demise of a ‘live’, democratic AGM we’ve not been able to explore these ideas further and to weigh up what we might think is the best way forward.
These questions will not go away. For now, they remain on the table. We can only hope that in 2021 a light emerges at the end of the tunnel; that we meet one another again in camaraderie and in competition. Rest assured I will do my best, together with Dave, Roy, Greg and Adrian, our makeshift steering group, to keep alive the purpose and spirit of our club.
Best as ever,