These days, I’m into exceptional experiences rather than dreaming of exceptional times. I like to swim in places that few people know, at unusual times of day and with my preferred choice of swim pals. I want to take my time, be in the moment and absorb my surroundings in a river or lake. Similarly, there are few things better than an early-morning’s swim at Hathersage with the majestic Stanage Edge in the distance, followed by eggs and coffee on the poolside terrace with my swim buddy – life doesn’t come much better than this.
The 17th March marks my paraversary: this year (2018) it is six years since I was knocked off my bike and lost the use of my legs. As it approached, there was a chance of it slipping by without me noticing, but I had this beautiful gift from my paratwin, Hannah Hunt, which could not be more apt since good luck is exactly what I need and we share our anniversary with St Patrick.
My wife Maureen and I first got into walking when we booked a cottage for a week in the Lake District in June 2003. Fortunately we had very good weather and were able to spend every day doing short walks of initially four to five miles and later in the week a few longer ones of up to 10 miles. We’d never walked more that three miles previously so this was new territory for us, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. That week inspired us to think 'what’s next?’.
As an NHS physiotherapist I find that many of my patients are aware they need to do more physical activity, even before I have given them any advice. What they want to know is how, despite the pain in their leg, despite the weight they’ve put on or despite them getting out of breath on the first hill they encounter. When they come to see me, running often seems impossible.
I was 14, running in the Lancashire Schools final. Coming around the final bend I was buckling, when I caught sight of my father leaning over the rail- he was screaming, “Come on McCarthy, push on!”
My father had never before shown such emotion. I knew he often watched me play football, cricket, run races; but always in the background, never making himself known to me or others. A quiet, unassuming person who would that day, turn me into a winner. That one outburst of emotional support by my unassuming father was, unknown to him, a pearl of wisdom. It taught me that by supporting, believing and encouraging people to try their absolute best, all can achieve their best self.
I’m an average runner with a below average body at the moment: life has undoubtedly got in the way this past year, with my sinuses playing up and my cake-to-mouth ratio being far too high to maintain any sort of manageable running weight; coupled with a certain (but undiagnosed) broken bone in my left foot. I managed a race and a half in 2017, by some way my poorest attempt to remain competitive since I began running in 2005. Frustration levels have been high but I’m not the first runner to fall into the ‘injured and ill’ category and I will not by any stretch of the imagination be the last.
I decided to ride the Cat & Fiddle Challenge in 2016 because I wanted to support Cystic Fibrosis Care whilst taking part in a challenging ride with like-minded people. Having just finished the 2016 circuit racing season and continuing to race cyclocross, I expected to complete the ride with relative ease, oh how wrong I was... The Cat & Fiddle Challenge is one of the hardest rides I've ever done.
I’m bored, sat at home on a Sunday morning with nothing to do. I’m bored, so I’ll go for a walk into town. It’s a nice warm day, so why not head out for a bit? I start walking down the hill towards Hanley when suddenly a runner flies past down the road, sweaty and breathy, hot and clammy! Then it goes quiet and much to my surprise two folk stood at their door started to cheer me on. Now I’m no runner but out of sheer embarrassment I picked up my walking pace, smiled and said thanks. Once out of sight I slowed back down to my steady plod and walked through Central Forest Park towards Hanley and off the race route, which by now I realise must be the local half marathon. Now it may have been the sunny weather, but I had a strange idea that I should now run this race in 2008. I was so embarrassed to have people clap me and think of me as a runner.
I always warmed up at the gym with ten minutes on the treadmill so in the voice of the former Top Gear presenter “How hard can it be?” I got to Hanley and realised the place was full of runners and there was no chance of a quiet pint. So, I headed home to mull over this new idea to run.
The weeks became months and the summer gave way to autumn and I’d all but forgotten about that day in June. I was bored (again) so I flicked the TV on. It was wet and a tad windy. Typical September weather. As the TV came on and flashed into life I was greeted by an aerial shot of some sort of race. It showed the people competing flooding over the Tyne bridge. I sat there transfixed by this race and then remembered the Potters ‘Arf and my somewhat strange idea to run the following year’s race! It was September now and so I figured I had time to train.
I picked up a pair of running shoes that week and on the Sunday after watching the Great North Run I ventured out into the world and plugged in my MP3 player, we didn’t have iPods back then – or I didn’t. I’m not sure how far I went, but it was a start and each Sunday then became my running time, what I later got to know as the ‘long Sunday run’, though for about four or five months I stuck to a 10k route and I ran that same route each Sunday and that became my routine which became my habit. I’d always say to anyone who is starting out on a new thing, be that running or not, is to make it a routine which in time becomes a habit.
Come February 2008 I was running up to 8 miles and then I slipped over, turned my knee and was out of action for much of 2008 with a torn ligament in my left knee. Months of hard graft with the physio and in the gym and I was resolved to run in 2009. My Potters ‘Arf time was 2:12 in 2009 and I was also lucky enough to run the Great North Run the following year in 2010. I’ve ran the GNR six times so far and ran in Spain, Ireland and the USA, as well as most parts of England. I owe those two people who cheered me on as I walked into town that day in June 2007!
We were in the London Road Alehouse before Christmas, working on book cover designs with Foley Creative, when Joe came over and asked about the artwork. Turns out he's an aspiring writer (and has a slot on 6 Towns Radio!) so we were delighted when he sent us this piece on his journey to health and well-being
For the best part of a decade what I ate was dependent on what was most accessible, tasty and affordable. My wallet dictated the number of times I went out drinking. The number of cigarettes I smoked in a day was dependent on nothing more than how many times in a day I felt like smoking.
There’s a term for this: physiological nihilism. The toll that fast food, alcohol and cigarettes take on your body is rendered completely insignificant when all that’s on your mind is satisfying a craving. Every variable but health is taken into account: “How much does a burger cost?”; “How far do I have to walk to the shop for some fags?”; but questioning “What is this doing to my body?” seemed irrelevant.
You would assume that considering my attitude to what goes into my body, exercise for me would be entirely futile, and you’d be right in assuming so. But a limited knowledge of fitness and a sheer desperation to outgrow a 10 stone, weedy body, was enough to push me through the gym doors nonetheless.
For a short time, I found myself balancing contradictory lifestyles - intensive, cardio and weight-based exercise, with equally intensive smoking and drinking. I moved on from physiological nihilism to physiological conflict. Every half a mile run was followed by half a pint drunk.
The one thing I found was that exercise, and the mental requirements of performing it, had a habit of manifesting themselves into other areas of life. In the months following joining the gym, I began questioning which foods I should be introducing into my diet, and which to banish entirely. This wasn’t a concerted effort to become a more well-rounded and healthy person. Given I was doing so much exercise, it just felt like the natural thing to do. Months later I had changed how often I was drinking, and the final curtain fell with the end of a nearly ten-year smoking habit. The best thing about it all? It was completely effortless.
The most profound thing is that this manifestation goes beyond just a healthier lifestyle. I currently host a weekly radio show on local station, 6 Towns Radio, and have begun what I hope will be a promising writing career. I can confidently say that this is as much as a result of hours spent on the treadmill as hours spent behind the computer screen.
What’s important to remember is that, when you are on the fringes of beginning your healthy lifestyle, there is no need for idealism. It will serve to set you up for failure and very little else. Let one thing, whatever that is, ignite your passion for fitness and everything else will naturally fall into place.
Running has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are running round my parent's garden which I’d turned into an obstacle course. Perhaps that’s why I’d take up cross-country and the steeple chase in the future? I can still remember my first competitive race in 1987 – the Devonshire County Cross Country Championships at Rolle College, Exmouth – when I was 13 and where everyone else seemed like giants. Surely they weren’t in my race? This would be the norm for several years to come, with the older boys seeming to tower over me and the other younger boys. I would also make a friend for life at this race. Matthew Cox, a fellow Exeter Harrier who trained in a different group, was determined to beat this unknown whipper snapper.
Sat deflated in a hospital bed, barely around from the anaesthetic and I heard the words “I’m afraid, it’s bad news”. I guessed the words were intended for me and what was said following was not processed. It could have been the drugs or it could have been my powerful mind not letting me hear. The next day I was more coherent. No movement in my right leg after an 8-hour reconstruction surgery but I thought that was normal. I’d had an epidural on top of the anaesthetic but as my left leg came back into order, there was no change in my right leg. I couldn’t move it or feel it at all. Then reality hit – a major risk of the surgery was damage to the nerves, I carried confidence as my left leg had already had the same surgery 12 months prior – but reality told me, I’d suffered damage and a lot of it. It was true, I had come round from surgery but my leg hadn’t.
When Rev ‘Gib’ Gregory moved to Derby in 1941 it was the beginning of a ten-year relationship not just with a large family of members at Normanton Road Congregational Church, but with Derby County - the Rams. It had been a toss-up whether young Gabriel continued a career with the cotton industry in Bolton, his birthplace, or enter the Christian ministry. He had been ‘converted’ at a meeting in Bolton market place and as a determined disciple of Jesus Christ was intent on training for a career in the independent nonconformist churches.His widowed mother was strongly opposed to necessary university education for such a career, and needed his paltry wages from the cotton mill. She even threw his study books into the fire. But Gib persevered, and after a spell in a Manchester Church, moved on to Derby. During his Manchester ministry he played for a local team, at Prestwich, and would arrive on Sunday to take the morning service, bruised and battered from the previous day’s match. He was an excellent centre half, suffering, as all players did, from heading the often wet and heavy leather ball.
You don’t have to be the fastest, strongest or most talented person in the world to become a Guinness World Record holder. I should know, I’m the current Guinness World Record holder for the “Fastest half marathon in a nurse’s uniform (male)” and I’m no superhuman. For me, what makes a Guinness World Record holder, isn’t about being the fastest or strongest person in the world, it’s about personal motivation; having a reason for taking up the challenge.
Never do things by halves. Strangely enough, this is a lesson I learnt from competing in the Potters ‘Arf of 2014. Over the years, I had completed seventeen full Potteries Marathons, several half-marathons and numerous other races, but in 2014, aged 53, I was asked by a younger friend in his mid-thirties to run with him in the ‘Arf. Truth be told, I expected Kev to beat me, but this was a chance to share his joy and excitement in competing in his first ‘Arf, and to run alongside him as far as I could. The dilemma for me was, how seriously should I take the race? I’ve always said that once I have finally lost my competitive edge, I’ll do these damned races dressed as Abraham Lincoln, or play a kazoo whilst running, or get up to some other pack of daft.
When my daughter Sophie was five years old, she told me that she wanted to do martial arts. I had done Tae Kwon Do when I was twelve - due to bullying experiences in school - and my mum had felt it would help my self-confidence. So I felt Tae Kwon Do would the best option for Sophie. I knew about Stoke UTA (Unified TaeKwon-do Association – the official Olympic version of the sport) from when I was working as a Family Service Worker: I had introduced a young boy I was supporting to Stoke UTA to help boost his self-esteem, and so I knew it was a good club.
My Potters Arf story starts back in April, although I didn’t know it at the time. I’d spent my two week Easter holiday in Kenya where I’m a frequent visitor to help out at Kings Children’s Home… more on that later.On 30th April I received the heart-breaking news that one of my former pupils, Matt Hollinshead, had sadly passed away. I’m a teacher in Stoke and had been Matt’s Head of Year for his five years of high school, from 2011 until 2016. Matt was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma just after he left Endon High and he fought bravely throughout his illness. He is deeply and sadly missed.
This is the story of my son Joe. As a little boy we tried several sports clubs but it was clear that team sports wasn’t his thing. He found this hard at school. He was good at swimming, bursting with energy. I would watch him jumping up and down, dunking his head under the water. I must admit being slightly worried, because all the other children were standing still waiting for their turn.
Then someone told me maybe we should try climbing because they had watched him climb a tree and he had very good balance. He was about six. But we were in the middle of moving to another area and so we didn’t follow it up.
In his new school, Joe was bullied from the very first day. So we ended up eventually taking him out of school to home educate. We also found that he had dysographia, dyspraxia and mild dyslexia which made writing frustrating and worsened his self-esteem. His confidence was at an all-time low.
We, like most parents, but especially because we home educate, look for opportunities and try as much as possible to follow interests. For Joe sport has been a big part of this. It has been a big positive in Joe’s life. It’s where he is happiest and where he wants to be. But it has to be sport he can do by himself and satisfies his need to challenge himself.
He started going to a Parkour club and was soon mastering flips and climbing up anything and everything, jumping over benches. Then we went to Rudyard Lake Sailing Club open day. He loved it and we joined the club. Members who had been sailing for a long time couldn’t believe he had never sailed before. Six months later having never sailed before he won outstanding junior sailor trophy at the Christmas prize giving. The club is great at encouraging children and young people. He’s been crewing for another member, attending their youth training sessions and will be working towards becoming an assistant instructor.
A year ago we came to Tumbling Trampoliners. Joe found his third passion. We would come for one session and he would beg me to let him stay for the next and the next. He now attends every session he can which is thirteen hours altogether. He’s also become a volunteer coach. When he’s doing any of these things I can see he is loving every minute and at the end wanting to come back. He just looks so free.
Photo courtesy Tumbling Trampoliners/Yannick Vidal
My dad has always been, and still is, a big influence my running. I remember from a young age being so excited and inspired by him running the London marathon. I thought he was going to be on the television! And seeing all the running medals he had made me want to one day run the London marathon - which I did back in 2011.
Clayton has built up a reputation for the sport of Badminton in recent years with numerous district title and County titles, regional titles are now also flowing through the veins of the students and the school has been challenging itself for a while to hunt down a National Title. This isn’t an idle ambition: In the past four years, the school has reached the National finals on two occasions with previous finals placing of 8th and 5th. And we’re there again in the 2016/17 school year. Can we supersede the achievement of previous finals?
My running journey began in 1996, when aged thirty-four I decided to go for a short run. Little did I know that, like Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days, my journey would take me the equivalent of round the world in miles. Exactly where the final mile of the 24,901 miles I covered I can’t be sure, but it was somewhere in or near Stoke-on-Trent.