Together, as a club, our hearts are heavy. We stand shoulder to shoulder as we grieve the passing of the founding father of our ‘little club’.
You can read a little more here about Gerry McCabe in this fitting tribute but I’d like to selfishly talk about the effect that he’s had on me as a person. I wrote a private letter to him a couple of weeks ago and his family were gracious enough to read it to him during his short stay in the hospice. With permission from his family I’d now like to make that letter an open one:
Up until 2012 I had barely run a step. Of course there were the mandatory PE classes at school in which I failed miserably at all sports. I was the stereotypical short, scrawny girl that couldn’t throw, catch or hit. Always picked last for teams, I would dread PE. Unless it was cross country – I actually enjoyed that (despite not being very good at it) and nobody else was relying on my (lack of) athletic prowess. I could just run until I got to the finish. Unfortunately in those days you had to be selected to take part in school cross country events, which of course I never was. Because it wasn’t about the enjoyment of sport, it was all about winning and that was the end of running for me.
Fast forward twenty years and nothing much had changed. I still had those dying embers of the previous fire inside of me that told me I wanted to be a runner but I had nothing to keep it burning bright. I watched the London Marathon every year in awe, promising myself that one day, I’d be there.
In 2012, I decided I’d do something about it. On a whim I entered the Great North Run – my only to target to make it round in one piece. I started jogging outside but I hated it. Barely half a mile in my lungs were burning, I was dripping with sweat and every step would hurt. I’ll never forget those first early mornings, where I would try and run a mile before work – in the dark and alone.
I worked my way up to 5k and although I was making progress, the enjoyment just wasn’t there. Come June, something called ‘parkrun’ had made its way to Burnley and I was there bright and early for the maiden event. Whilst running, I noticed a lot of people in these funny black and white stripy vests. “Gosh”, I thought to myself. “These must be serious people.” Yet their vest wasn’t the only thing they had in common – they were all wearing a smile. And chatting. And laughing.
There were of course other people wearing different vests that day, but between me and you, they all seemed rather grumpy! One ‘gentleman’ even almost knocked me over in his eagerness to get to the finish. I plucked up the courage to wander over to the friendly bunch in black and white and struck up a conversation and before I knew it I had agreed to join them on Monday for a training session.
And that was that. They welcomed an enthusiastic – yet struggling – ‘wannabe’ runner with open arms. They never once made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. They never once put me down. They never once made me feel like my Yr7 PE teacher did. I was a runner, now. So thank you, Gerry. It’s because of you that I’m the person I am today. Not just because of my love of sport, but because I have gained the self-confidence that I was always lacking. Even at a meagre 5ft nothing, I walk (and run!) with my head held high. You’ve created a club not just of athletes, but of friends. Of supporters. Who hold each other up and celebrate everyone’s achievements, no matter how small. Who make each other feel good about themselves. Who offer advice and encouragement. Who stand together. Who have become a second family to me.
Whether I’m at the front end of the pack or right at the very back, whether I’m on a track or wading through mud, whether I’m slushing through snow or melting in a heatwave – that flame will never be put out. Thank you, Gerry.
P.S I did complete the Great North Run and I did fulfil my childhood dream of running the London Marathon – and because of you I did it from the Championship start.
My thoughts and prayers are with Gerry’s friends and family and as a club, I know we will continue to do him proud and ensure that the good nature and the ethos of our club remains as Gerry intended it.