Dave Shipman writes…
This tribute is based on comments from a number of people from both Elvet Striders and Durham Triathlon club, along with snippets from various articles about Mike’s amazing history as a runner and triathlete. These messages to Kim and her family have come in from people all over the country. They are from those who knew them well and over a long period of time, and from others who met them briefly during sporting events, when out training, or at related social gatherings. Regardless of how long you knew Mike he still made a big impression because of the kind of man he was.
Common themes from everyone include his overall enthusiasm, warmth and kindness, his modesty, despite his own incredible athletic success, and his friendship and supportive nature with all other club members. Mike showed a real interest in what others were achieving rather than focusing on his own efforts, and this was all backed with a dry, cheeky sense of humour.
Once at the North-East Harrier League, in the days before the Striders had a club changing tent and sometimes struggled to turn out the required six male club members, we were all standing at the edge of a muddy field in pouring rain, getting our kit on, discussing the course and generally having a good moan. Mike said he had ‘just the equipment’ for the course conditions in his bag, he scrabbled around for a while then turned back to the group with a big grin, wearing his swimming cap as protection against the downpour. Sometimes we never knew if we had the numbers to make up a team but inevitably Mike would arrive at the start, enthusiastic and raring to go – Mike was always reliable like that (that’s if he was in the country and not away doing an international event or halfway across Europe in the caravan – he once towed it from an event in Portugal to one in the Czech republic, arriving just before the event, having driven for days, with no training along the way!!). Even in the later years when he felt he was off the pace he would still turn out to make sure we had a team. Kim says he loved cross country, a love which he passed on to his daughter Jan, who now runs cross-country and fell races.
Then at times when it came to the competitive ‘crunch’ Mike could display a determination, commitment and bravery which made some of his competitors and club members see him as ‘Mr Reliable’, an ever-present at events, ‘Mr Invincible’, ‘A hero’ and an ‘inspiration’ to many. He has even been referred to as ‘A genuine legend in his own lifetime’. Along with many north east athletes, Mike’s daughter Carol was inspired to take up triathlon after seeing the success of her mum and dad. Carol too went on to represent Great Britain, competing in the world triathlon championships in New Zealand in 1994.
Over the years many have admired Mike as a great athlete “for his age” but the truth is he was a superb athlete throughout his life. It didn’t matter whether it was an international or championship event or a local race or club handicap, from Blyth to Mexico, from Snods Edge to Lausanne, Mike loved competing and gave every event his all. Like most athletes and many folk here, he often played down or moaned about his current fitness, but there was usually some sort of plan involved, an eye to the next world finals perhaps, and when you got the chance of a quiet, longer conversation with him he might identify which of his rivals he thought he could beat if he just improved on … or when he moved up an age category … or when a new bike would save him a few seconds … or because it wasn’t a rough sea swim (which was Mike’s least favourite element). Modest and canny, yes, he was those things, but he was actually an extremely effective and successful Durham athlete for over 25 years.
In contrast, at times when he wasn’t competing, maybe recovering after a major championship or a hard training spell he would be equally happy jogging round at the back of a club handicap or monthly club social run, looking resplendent in brightly coloured or harlequin-patterned running tights. He would often volunteer to take the role of ‘sweeper’, staying at the back to make sure all the runners completed the run safely and didn’t get lost along the way. Newer members would not know that they were training with an international as he hardly ever boasted about his success, content to chat about all aspects of training and racing and listening as much as talking.
Examples of his success are many and I won’t go through the long list of his event and championship activities now, but they include running, triathlon and duathlon all over Britain and Europe and winning medals of all colours at several world championships. ( His records are held in files in his study and hopefully will be turned into a future website article at some stage). However I will pick out a couple of examples which typify his approach. At a South Coast triathlon one year the sea swim off Dover was particularly rough, but Mike battled on to get to the end, despite officials suggesting he might want to pack in. Kim actually thought he was going to drown on that day!!
At the European duathlon championships in 2004 he was knocked off his bike by another rider and after an ambulance trip to the hospital the docs suggested that perhaps he was getting too old for this kind of activity, to which Kim replied that it was much better for them than sitting in an arm chair!! That response typifies their attitude and why together they have inspired so many and achieved so much.
Once at the Cleveland Tri relays a fellow team member dropped out injured after the bike ride, so Mike then volunteered to run twice and subsequently ran two 3-mile legs for the team, in identical and very respectable times.
Mike did the World Hill Running Championships in the Lake District in 2006. At that event Mike was frustrated because there was no age category for seventy-five plus so he had to compete against the youngsters in the sixty-five to seventy-five categories.
Even after a period of ill health he asked the consultant how soon he could run again and when given a firm “NO” he asked whether swimming or cycling was a better option then? At his birthday party last year Mike was still scheming to get out and run the Coniston 14, a tough course and one of his favourites, but only when someone pointed out it had been lengthened to over 16 miles because of flood damage did he conclude he’d give it a miss this year.
However people saw Mike and however they described him he has certainly done more than most to promote and develop triathlon in the North East region. He did his first triathlon in 1986 at Wansbeck, was a founder member of the Durham tri Club, starting with once a month meetings at a pub in Hett Village, and went on to be a North-East region official and events sanctioning officer and regional rep for the national Tri association. Significantly, because he was competing all over the world he brought that experience back into the emerging races in the North East, so helped them to develop and improve.
At many events Kim and Mike’s caravan was a familiar sight, sometimes as the race HQ, sometimes just as a place to rest and change kit, but always as a place where they both displayed their warmth and hospitality, making a brew and feeding tired, cold competitors. Over the years that warmth and friendship has also included numerous parties at their home, post-run feeds, and general chat. From that perspective its not possible to comment about Mike without mentioning Kim, as they were nearly always together, socially and in competition at events and in conversation, club members would often report the fact that ‘Kim and Mike were there’, ‘Mike and Kim are back from their travels’ ‘saw Mike and Kim in Durham’ etc. They really were a team and supported and encouraged each other to compete as often as they could. Certainly, their post-retirement lifestyle together (some would see it as the life of fulltime athletes) has been the envy of many of us and we all hope we get to compete for as long as they have.
So, one last comment to end on, I am not sure that Mike was fully aware of how much we all thought of him as a fellow athlete and as a friend. We sometimes get too tied up in things to let people know don’t we? But, if he is sitting somewhere on his turbo trainer looking down on us then I hope he realises what impact he has had on our lives. Just as Kim and the family are so proud of him, we are all very proud of the fact that Mike was a member of our two clubs. He will be greatly missed by club members and fellow competitors past and present – far too many to mention. Mike has given us all so much, his contribution to both clubs is greatly valued and will continue to inspire all who met him for a long time to come.
You may also like to read a nice article on Mike here, reproduced with kind permission of 220 Triathlon.