I went out on a bike ride a few weeks ago with some of best cyclists in our triathlon club. Three guys who are much faster than me. I knew I was in for a tough evening, but that is what I wanted. I was at that point in my training where I needed a really hard session.
We started out at a pace a little faster than I am used to, but I held on OK. In fact things were fine for the first 7-8 miles and then we came to the first hill. Straight away I dropped off the back as the pros powered to the top. No problem – when I got there they were waiting for me.
The pattern was repeated for the next few hours – fine on the flat, not so fine on the hills, I fall off the back, and they wait at the top. On one particularly long haul I was cycling for about fifteen minutes on my own grinding up hills and I lost sight of them. But sure enough, at the next big turning, there they were waiting.
I felt a bit bad. I didn’t want to hold them up and insisted that they press on – I knew my way back.
Dan was first to answer: “We started this ride together and we’ll finish it together” Nothing else. He was true to his word, Dan and I finished in a pub about an hour and half later!
James was next: “It’s a club ride” he said. His matter of fact tone suggested that no more words of explanation were needed. The message was clear. We’re all in this together.
“We’re all in this together” is a recurring theme in our tri club. I saw it again in a much bigger way this weekend at our annual Club Championships.
This year we chose the Newbury Triathlon as our championship event. It is very well run event and only 40 minutes from Andover. Twenty of us entered and made our way over on Sunday morning. It was a memorable day. Two things made it memorable or more accurately two people made it memorable.
Mike Donnelly, who joined the club at about the same time as me, was doing his first ever triathlon at Newbury. I knew from talking to him that he was very nervous – sleepless nights nervous. He drew the earliest starting slot, 8.40am, which was probably a good thing. Despite some members of the club not starting for an hour and half after Mike, lots of people got there early to give Mike some support and help him on his way in the swim. I had the pleasure of seeing him do the swim with the biggest smile on his face. By the time he got out of the pool, that was it, he was in love with triathlon. He was hooked!
With a 10.04am start I was still out on the race course when Mike finished, but the smile on his face when I saw him after I finished and the look of pride on his wife, Louise’s, face made that early alarm call more than worth it.
Louise doesn’t stand a chance now, Mike is addicted. I’ve even seen the word “Ironman” on his Facebook timeline. One of my abiding memories of the day was the number of people who took the time to congratulate Mike – congratulations that said: “We’re all in this together”.
If Mike’s was a feel good moment, Kieron Parnell’s was an emotional one. Kieron had a bad bike accident cycling home from work a couple of years ago. He suffered a serious head injury and has taken a long time to overcome it physically and emotionally.
Kieron is one of the longer standing members of the club and had planned to come and support at Newbury, but with a little persuasion from a few of the old hands he decided to compete. This wasn’t people trying recklessly to rope Kieron in; this was the work of caring and experienced coaches who knew this was the right time and occasion for Kieron to get back in the saddle.
Having one of the later starting times, I was one of later finishers. When I got to the finish line there was a large crowd of Andover Tri members, wives, girlfriends, husbands, boyfriends and children gathered. There was quite a buzz. This wasn’t an organised gathering; they were there to cheer their club mates over the line and they weren’t leaving until everyone was in.
Kieron, by his own confession, isn’t in the shape he has been, but today wasn’t about time for him it was about getting round. We caught a glimpse of him as he entered the half mile or so finishing loop round the playing field in front of us. Just a glimpse was enough to raise the roof. He was on his way.
As he pushed out a steady rhythm towards us, a spontaneous and thunderous ovation erupted and carried him every step of the way to the finish line. It may not have been the fastest performance of the day but it was certainly the bravest. It was impossible to watch it and not get a lump in your throat. The moving heartfelt reception was the acclaim that only a close-knit group of club mates can offer to one of their own.
And the fact that every member of the club was still there to cheer Kieron home spoke volumes. The message was clear. We all started together and we’ll all finish together. It was Andover Tri showing what “club” means. Anyone can put the word club after the name of their organisation, but not everyone can contrive the esprit de corps that a close bunch of friends who train and complete together can generate. Anyone can set up a club but not anyone can create the atmosphere of family that our club has achieved. Newbury was a special day for our club. It was a chance to show everyone that we’re all in this together.
Later that day three words summed up what everyone felt. Next to a group picture of the 40 club members and supporters taken at the Newbury Triathlon posted on Facebook, James Barber had written simply the words: “What a club!”