This Barnes family is one which is fortunate to boast a current international athletics representative. Not a junior competitor, but one still young and in her 60s, and flying the flag as enthusiastically as anyone could.
For all the years that I’ve known Sue, she was never by inclination, an athlete. That is, until 14 years ago, when she was in her early 50s, and the whole picture changed.
Sue has always been 8 stone something – excepting the pregnancies – maintaining good health by knowing how to eat well and generally look after herself. As regards exercise, this was confined to some social cycling, an occasional swim or game of tennis, and some brisk walking. So Sue was fit, but not serious event-fit.
For fun and for a good cause, she entered a Race for Life event with a friend from Newcastle, to help raise funds for cancer research. “Why not, it can’t be that difficult if taken steadily”. This was a 5k trot around Jesmond Dene, but nevertheless one for which she felt duty bound to prepare properly. This involved running a little, then walking a similar distance, and repeat, and repeat. This helped to build up her stamina to the point where she was really enjoying running – so much so, that other, longer events followed, building to a real-life crescendo when she decided to run a marathon in November 2007 – all 26.2 miles of it.
No half measures though in her choice, it was to be New York!! Her name was in lights in the New York Times for a sub-5 hours run, and 4:54:18 went into her personal record book. I joined Sue in a bar on Broadway on the evening of the run, having arrived into JFK earlier that day (Sue having come out with a running group a few days earlier to acclimatise). For a fuller version of the NYC experience, please see a future post New York City – with Patricia Beard and Kevin Kline
Many more events have followed over the years – marathons, half marathons, the occasional organised cycling event, even open-water swimming – and some combinations of these. So from a small acorn only a few years previously, we now had an athlete/duathlete/triathlete in the family, competing regularly around the country and thoroughly enjoying every minute of the experience (with me as her manager, ensuring at the very least that her tyres were pumped to the correct pressures).
Until…..Sue said that she fancied trying to qualify in her age-group, to represent GBR at the forthcoming World Championships in Adelaide, South Australia. She held out no great hope of actually doing so, but nothing ventured…..
So the day arrived for us to go to Stockton on Tees for the qualifying event. There was another lady trying to qualify in Sue’s age group, but someone who was much faster – possibly too fast for Sue to get within the +20% qualification allowance for those coming after the heat winner. Nevertheless, Sue seemed chipper as she set off on the c1.5 hours long run/bike/run.
She came in in her expected time, with a big smile on her face. “There was one thing I didn’t tell you, Rob. The other lady had to pull out, so there was only me trying to qualify, so I’ve qualified!!!” So, my wife the international.
Adelaide. We’d never had a reason to go to Australia, and it wasn’t on our life plan to make such a long journey. There was prevarication in the air. I just said to her ‘it’s your decision, and I’ll be equally happy if you say ‘yes’ or if you say ‘no’. After all, it was an expensive exercise, having to pay for everything, with no element outside-funded. After a number of days, Sue sat me down and said, “Right, I’ve decided. I may never get then chance again – we’ll go.”
So, in October 2015, accompanied by her bike, knocked down and in a large green box, we flew out from Newcastle Airport, accompanied by the Tonga rugby union team, who had just been knocked out of the Rugby World Cup. They didn’t look happy, and I just hoped that my seat wouldn’t be wedged between two grumbling prop forwards, and it’s a long way to Dubai, before the even-longer second leg to Adelaide.
As it happened, it was an event-free journey of c20 hours. Sue represented her country brilliantly, coming 14th, and pre-qualifying for the World Championships in Spain the following year. We had a fantastic 12 days in that fair city – even seeing some friends made on a cycling holiday, and walking in the Adelaide Hills. So many happy memories, that you should read my essay-to-come, “The Token Pom”, for the whole experience.
On a sad note, Sue was unable to fulfil her place in Spain, as her much-loved elder brother David, died a few days before we were due to travel.
Competition then got stiffer, with younger athletes coming into her age-group….she opted out of some qualifying events, before another birthday meaning she could climb into the next age-group up, and qualification for duathlon in the 65-69 group for both the Worlds (Pontevedra, N Spain), and Europeans (Targu Mures, Romania) in June 2019.
Pontevedra took place in late April, with Sue coming 10th in her age-group. A brilliant 4 places better than in Adelaide – A TOP TEN FINISH!
Targu Mures, in the land of bridges*, where Sue was runner-up in her age-group event, and proudly sported SILVER medal – yes, a podium place in the Transylvania 2019 Multisport Triathlon European Championships. If nothing else happens in Sue’s athletic career, this is a significant high point. Proud doesn’t begin to do justice to her efforts.
How long will this age-group qualifying continue? There’s always a nemesis in Sue’s age-group, but oldest athletes competing are currently in their late 80s (really!!), so who’s to say when this great joy in all of our lives will end….
Sue with her Silver Medal in Romania
* Romania has won much EU funding to help improve its road infrastructure. Two x 3 hour journeys across this seemingly empty country, revealed that this work had started – there are lots of bridges, but precious little by way of tarmac to link them together. No doubt they will all be joined up in the near future, as long as the money isn’t being diverted to other pockets.