I never normally blog so soon after my last post, but I felt under the circumstances it was important. I never imagined I would ever be writing a post like this either. As you might have seen from the CP Teens social media pages, we received the devastating news on Monday morning that Andy, my Coach and the CP Teens RaceRunning Coach, very unexpectedly and suddenly passed away over the weekend.
I am determined not to make this into a sad post, anyone who knew Andy will know what a wicked sense of humour he had. He did so much for CP Teens and he was a massive supporter of the charity, so I felt it was important to honour this in a post on the CP Teens website.
On a personal level, Andy meant so much to me. When I first went to the Paralympic GB Taster Day back in April 2013, I had a go at Athletics but the only event I could physically do at this time (before RaceRunning ‘existed’ in England) was the Club Throw. No coach would take me on in the local area as it was considered as such a specialised event. However, Andy said he would, despite not knowing the first thing about Club Throwing - but, he was willing to try and learn along the way. This was the kind of guy he was.
He stuck with me from then on. His perseverance and passion to bring me on and develop me was incredible. And, not just in my direct sporting performance - we worked on things such as walking backwards, stepping over mini hurdles etc. all to improve my general physical ability. If I ever laughed at the thought of doing something because I thought it was ridiculous for me to attempt it, he would get me to do it and then stand there going "Hahahahaha, Miss 'I can't do it'!" - probably doesn't sound that funny, one of those things where you probably had to be there! The improvement in me over the past 5 years has been phenomenal, my parents have even seen an improvement in my hand coordination - something that no ‘professional’ has ever managed to achieve in me. But Andy managed it. Small things in my everyday life, such as kerbs, I can now do because of the time Andy put in.
I first started with Andy just after my A Levels. My confidence was really low from being in the school environment. By the October, he had given me so much confidence and made my passion for sport so strong that I decided that I was going to apply for a Sport course at Sheffield Hallam University. I was getting so much out of my training with Andy and I felt that at last I had a purpose in life and that I wanted to enable other people like myself to experience the amazing opportunities I was having. I remember him being so over the moon that I was going to apply for a Sport course.
A couple of years later, I discovered RaceRunning, which changed my life. Again, Andy didn’t know the first thing about RaceRunning at the time, but was willing to take it on as it was something I wanted to do. At first, he co-coached my RaceRunning alongside another coach, and in 2016 he took on the full role. It was at this time that I dropped the Club Throw so that we could concentrate on RaceRunning. Andy also took on the role of coach for the CP Teens RaceRunning Club at this time and his passion and love of RaceRunning sparked.
He very quickly got into the swing of things and my PB's, as well as everyone else's, just kept getting beaten and beaten. He was on every start line up and down the country with one message - enjoy it, believe in yourself and just do your best. He wasn't focused on medals - as long as we enjoyed it and tried our best, he was a very happy man - PB's and medals were always a bonus, although they regularly occurred as he was so dedicated. He was eager to learn more whenever he could about coaching RaceRunning, even travelling to Scotland at his own expense.
With Andy I achieved so much, including 3 x National Champion 2015-2017, 2 World Golds, 1 World Bronze, UK #1 2015-2017, CP Sport Field Athlete of the Year 2016 & CP Sport Track Athlete of the Year 2016.
But, for me, it is continued support, friendship and help he gave me in everything I did that is equally as important, if not more so. He came to the CP Teens UK office opening in July and in his usual sarcastic yet serious way he said "Don't let your head get so big that you can no longer run, but I am dead impressed and so proud“. He even turned up to my graduation to see me in my cap and gown, along with some mini bottles of Prosecco and a card with the message "Congrats my star RaceRunner ... although, I never had any doubt. The future is so bright" - Andy believed so much in me. Although I'm not quite sure why, I put my shoes on the wrong feet this morning, haha! Even when we weren’t at training or competitions, he was thinking of me - recently, a Paralympian visited his work, and he pushed himself to the front to tell her all about me and got her to sign a photograph for me with a personal message. He’d always text me on important days, such as my dissertation hand-in day and my last official day at University. It was a bit like having a third parent but also an amazing friend all at the same time.
He cared so much about the RaceRunning Club too. Only before Christmas, we went to the Accessible Derbyshire Ball and he insisted on buying all of the RaceRunners a drink. Although, he did question how ethical it was with a coach plying his international athletes with alcohol, haha! He took great pleasure in seeing them all develop, but never took any credit himself.
On the announcement in October of RaceRunning becoming a World Para Athletics event, Andy was beside himself - as we all were. He never coached to get elite recognition and the GB kit, but this made it so amazing that he was going to get it. On the 1st January, RaceRunning became an official World Para Athletics event and I got a message from him saying "today is the day" and "may all your dreams come true ... but, lay off the Malibu please", haha! He always took the mick out of my love for Malibu rum - only last week, Andy commented on a photo that was put on Facebook of me drinking cocktails by saying "That looks like a decent protein shake. Dedication, hard work & ... Malibu", haha!
Andy was incredibly excited and enthusiastic about the future of RaceRunning, but not for his own benefit - he was just so thrilled that athletes with moderate/severe CP/brain injuries were finally being given the recognition and a chance to shine on the world stage.
On the same day that RaceRunning was announced to become a World Para Athletics event, I was also selected for my second World Games. I ran into the EIS that evening to the biggest high-5 and hug awaiting me, and also the same old question of “Will you please start believing in yourself now please?!”. I am so glad that I was able to share the news of my selection with him. In August, 4 out of the 7 athletes RaceRunning for England in Barcelona will be because of Andy.
Andy gave so much of his spare time to CP Teens UK and the RaceRunning Club. In recognition of this, as well as his love, passion and carefully planned out and high quality coaching, on behalf of the CP Teens UK RaceRunning Club, I nominated him for CP Sport Coach of the Year 2017, which he deservedly went onto win. He was so well thought of by the whole Cerebral Palsy athletics and RaceRunning community and was recognised for producing world class RaceRunning athletes.
My RaceRunning, and CP Teens RaceRunning, will never be the same again. I am determined to go on in his memory and reach for everything we were working towards and more. I will be going for Gold in Barcelona for Andy. Although, I apologise now for the uncontrollable tears on the finish line and on the podium now if I manage to do it! I know he’ll be with me on every start line, and the other RaceRunners, as he always was - I will always hear him saying “keep moving … keep warm … do a practice start while you’re waiting!”.
No matter how far I go in my RaceRunning journey, Andy will always be in my thoughts and will always be the man who kickstarted my dreams and enabled them to happen. I will be forever grateful for everything he has done for me, and for CP Teens UK. He will forever be in my journey and a massive part of my life. It sounds soppy and maybe even a bit cliche, but he really did turn my life around as an 18 year old who had left school and was so lost as to what I could do in life. A wonderful coach, friend and mentor.
He was a true hero to me, the charity, RaceRunning and disability athletics. I will miss him greatly.
Thank you Andy.