21 December, 2014My first experience in running was when my brother, Bobby, just out of the Royal Air Force after World War Two, took me along to the track at Mount Blow in Dalmuir, Scotland and timed me trying a fifty yard dash. I was wearing rubber boots so I am sure that Jesse Owens had nothing to worry about. It was the Spring of 1946 and I was eleven years old.
I started going regularly to the track with Bobby and soon with the conditioning that ensued, I was unable to enjoy the various kids games we used to play. At “Ralees”, the other kids could not catch me and I could run three miles if necessary, so they became bored. I started going regularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays and working out with the adults. This was exciting and as everyone treated me as an equal, it was very flattering too.
It seemed for a long time that I was too young to enter competitions. I was always waiting to grow older. Now that I am 80 years old, it is quite the reverse.
As I write, I am looking through my training log from 1950 all the way to 1956. The pencilled entries are fading but they still bring back memories. I see the names of John Hume, Bill Linton, Eric McMahon, Jimmy Young, and dear Charlie Rowan. I keep it in my a file marked “Funeral” together with a collection of photos of highlights from running and throwing competitions over the years. I set that file up to make things easier for my son, Robert, who will be very upset when I finally die. I have had some narrow escapes and Robert says that maybe I am like a cockroach, which cannot be killed.
In that file, I just saw some pictures from 1989, when I was training for the decathlon. They are taken in the gym and I am bench pressing 496 pounds while proudly wearing my Clydesdale Harriers sweat shirt. I had some leverage on that machine, but I am sure it was still a very heavy lift. The machine went to 300 pounds and I had another 196 pounds hanging on it. I did compete in that decathlon, but the following year, 1990, suffered a major heart attack, following which there was to be no more racing or heavy lifting. Now my wife has to help me open jars. But I am getting ahead of myself. Literally.
From the beginning as a runner, my main problem was a lack of speed. I did everything I could to improve that, but it never happened. 11.8 seconds for the hundred yards just did not cut it. With practice I could start with the best in Clydesdale Harriers over the first five yards but then they kept on accelerating and I did not. I became a half mile runner and when I could ran road and cross country races. I could never find sufficient time for training due to studies. I had to go to night school three nights each week then study the rest of my free time, while I worked forty four hours each week serving an apprenticeship at Singers Manufacturing Company, as a Press Tool Maker for five years, from 1949 to 1954. Since I did not have enough time to adequately train for running, I took up discus throwing.
Due to my lack of speed I became extremely successful at finishing second in many races as a youth and junior. I remember many Club competitions held in the evenings at Mount Blow when I would set a hot pace in the half mile with someone tailing me and in the home straight I could see a shadow creeping up on me and that someone would pip me at the post.
In 1949, at the age of 14, they allowed me to run in the club youth championships 880, I ran a dead heat with Charley Rowan, who was a couple of years older, in 2-21.6. In 1950, dear Charley Rowan again came from behind and won in 2-22.0. I was second in 2-22.1. In 1951 again Charley Rowan won the club junior half mile in 2-14, with me second in exactly the same time. In 1952 Allan McLelland came from behind in the half mile to pip me at the post. I think I won the points competition that year Anyway, you see what I mean about finishing second. It was the same in the county championships, in 1953 a fellow called Lynn of Garscube beat me by two feet (that is a distance, not a pun). Then Vale of Leven had a young fellow who could go under two minutes and leave me a distant second, to beat whoever else was trying. In 1953 George Rodgers discovered he could run a good half mile and came from behind to beat me in the club junior championships. Up till the George had been a sprinter.
(An aside :) One day at Mount Blow, when George was very new to running, he was chatting with a stranger, who turned out to be Scottish hundred yards champion Willie Jack of Victoria Park. Willie asked “What is your event?”. George said, “I’m a sprinter. What do you do?” Willie said, “Oh, I’m a sprinter too.”
Anyway, you can see that I had an unremarkable career as a runner. I did run the Ben Nevis race (fourteen miles up and down the 4,400 foot highest mountain in the British Isles) in 1955 and in 1956, fourteen miles up and down the highest mountain in Britain, finishing somewhere in the middle of the sixty or so competitors. I still have the certificates.
I came to Canada in 1957 and worked out at a gym and practiced discus until I could throw over 100 feet. In Scotland that would have been pretty good. Anyway I entered a competition in 1959 at Lake Couchaching and was feeling very nervous in the change tent as I got dressed for action. Then a guy sat down on the bench beside me and I noticed as he tied his shoes, that his arms were bigger around than my thighs. He turned out to be Commonwealth Games champion, Stan Raike, a Toronto policeman, who held the Canadian record at 155 feet. I had learned my discus throwing technique from a book and Stan advised me that nobody threw that way any more. It was an old book.
I did not compete for some time, then in 1963 when I started the Six Nations Track and Field Club, I had to give try racing again to get the young Iroquois fellows motivated. They certainly did not want to be beaten by and old guy like me! I would be close to thirty years old then. In 1965 we moved to Yellowknife in the Canada’s sub Arctic, in the Northwest Territories and I worked at Giant Yellowknife Mines in charge of the Mechanical Department. This was the largest gold producer in Canada at this time producing a gold brick a day, about 65 pounds of almost pure gold. This was quite an experience for four years, 1965 to 1969 (you can read about it in my memoirs, under “Memories of Yellowknife”) Anyway the cold weather of winter and the mosquitoes and blackflies of summer made running inadvisable so I satisfied myself with putting on weight.
In 1969, I moved to Falconbridge in Northern Ontario and there was an older guy (in his sixties) in one of my work crews who jogged, so I thought, “If he can do it, so can I.” so I started running again, roads and back trails. About 1982 I heard about a Masters Track Meet in Toronto, and went along to watch. When I saw these guys compete, I thought, “I can do that, too.” The next season I was trying the 800 meters, high jump and discus. In 1983 I really got going and was enjoying myself thoroughly with good fellowship and good competition.
I tried the Pentathlon, five events in one day, which was 200 meters, long jump, discus, javelin and 1500 meters and found that I could do quite well in multi events. In 1985, when I was 51, Toronto hosted the World Masters Games and I heard that there would be some ex Olympic athletes competing, so I was determined to go along and watch. Then I thought, “If I entered, I could get really close to these athletes and get some good pictures,” so that is what I did. John Landy of Australia, the second man in the world to break the four minute mile, was the chairman of the Games and was a very approachable chap. He had been involved in a phenomenal mile race with Roger Bannister at the Commonwealth Games in 1953.
Anyway, the discus was my first competition at these Games and to my amazement, I found myself in second place to a guy from Brazil, after three throws. This condition did not last because a couple of other guys got in good throws and I ended up in fourth place, but wow! Fourth place in the world! The next day the Pentathlon was held and we trooped out onto the field together. It was won by an ex US Marine, but in second place was another Canadian and I was third. I could not believe it. For some time afterwards I wondered if I had dreamed it.
World Masters events now attract many more and better competitors. For instance, the World Championships of 1987 in Japan attracted 12,000 competitors. Eugene, Oregon had over 5,000 and the same event in Buffalo, New York drew 7,000.
After enjoying the Pentathlon, I heard that in 1989 in Eugene, Oregon there would be a full Decathlon, ten events in two days of competition. I had never done hurdles or pole vault, since at Mount Blow in Scotland, we did not have the equipment for that, but I figured that I had to learn, so at age 54 3/4 I started to learn how to hurdle and pole vault. Just enough to get by...In Eugene in the Decathlon, I think I finished about 17th out of about 60 competitors. In the discus, I forget what I did but I got to compete against the great Al Oerter ( four gold medals in four different Olympic Games!) He never noticed me, but I did have a word with the Reverend Bob Richards, pole vaulter extrordinaire. He was on the Wheaties boxes for many years. The breakfast of champions! He, too had been an Olympic gold medalist., but in his event in Eugene, he was beaten into second place by a guy from Wales, another late bloomer. I was getting ready for the Canadian Championships of August 1990. They did not have a decathlon, but I had entered seven events. The night before leaving for Montreal, I had a severe attack of indigestion so I spent the time from one AM to five AM exercising to get rid of it. That is our answer to health problems, right? Exercise. Anyway, in the morning I called in to the local hospital’s emergency department to got something for the indigestion. They did a blood test and told me I had suffered a heart attack! What a jolt. I was no longer bullet proof. Anyway, after rehabilitation, I could no longer race or do heavy weights, but the doctor said I could keep on with discus, as it was less explosive. I set myself a goal and met it, to compete in the World Masters Track and Field Championships in Turku, Finland an 1991. I finished nineteenth, I think. Anyway, I continued to jog and compete in discus and find, by counting the “gold” medals hanging on clothes hangers in my closet, I have won the discus throw in the Canadian Masters Championships some nine times. I have won it in Sherbrooke, Toronto (three times), Ottawa, Calgary, Hamilton, London, and Regina.
I have been seriously ill since 2005 with a major cancer, Giant Cell Arteritis, (inflamation of the arteries) and a bad car smash up in 2008. I have not done very well since then, but still competed. For me , 2005 was a good year, perhaps a “last hurrah.”. The Canadian rankings in my age group for that year were:
Outside of track and field, in 1956 Jack Higginson and I climbed fifteen Munroes (3,000 foot peaks) in a single day starting at the head of Glen Nevis in Scotland. I heard that the famous author Nigel Tranter’s son exceeded that but has since died. Probably others have surpassed his total by now. Back then I believed it was possible to climb twenty four peaks in a day.
While I do not recollect any particular individuals in Clydesdale Harriers influence in my life as I started out, I loved the family feeling we generated together. There was little elitism and there was room for everybody. If we failed to achieve athletic greatness it was never for a lack of trying. The lessons I learned about life, that you never quit, that you persist, served me well in studies, career and in family life.
I never engaged in mountain climbing after Jack Higginson’s big fall on New Year of 1957. (See my memoirs under The Final Ascent.) Family interests took over and making a new life in Canada. In the year 2012 the pain from arthritis in my fingers finally caused me to resign from discus competition at age of seventy eight.