This is my story of the day my nephew Charlie Wakefield ran for the first time in the English Schools Athletic Association (ESAA) All England Cross Country Championships.
Having been an athlete all my life, I had dreamed as a boy on many occasions about being good enough to represent my county at the All England Schools Cross Country, despite determination and dedication my lack of ability ensured I was never quite fast enough to be in the top eight runners in my county and thus never ran in the All England.
To find now, that all these years later my nephew has both the determination, dedication and talent to be the best runner not only in his county but in the Eastern Counties fills me with enormous pride, and in some ways fulfills my own boyhood dream.
The night before the race I was at my brothers house and was invited to see Charlie to bed. His bedroom was like a treasure trove of gleaming silver and gold, every space, shelf and wall being filled with trophies, shields and ribbons. I asked him which he was most proud of? He picked up a big shield with nameplates going back to the 1970s. The shield was the Norfolk “County” Shield for the Colts Cross Country winner (Under 13). I looked closely at the shield to see many names I recognised from the past, the first being Carl Smith who I’d first met and challenged to a race in 1978 at a football match in North Lynn (I lost). Carl Smith was already representing England when I met him, a few years later I met him at college and remembered the blond haired boy who literally won all the cross country races by miles. Now he smoked and seemed to be fairly inactive. The last time I saw him was at the National Colleges Cross Country Final at Wollaton Park, Nottingham in 1986. Despite not training and smoking he still beat me by a considerable margin.
The other name which stood out was Darren Mead, who won the trophy twice. At 17 he had the fastest time for his age group in the UK for 1o miles with 48.45. Unsurprisingly he represented England on several occasions peaking in 1986 with 39th place at the World Junior Cross Country in Switzerland.
Charlie was indeed in good company, my head was full of thoughts of what the future for him might be. I wished him good night and went off to bed myself.
Wollaton Hall, Nottingham was a stunning venue for the event.
After a long drive to Nottingham with his mum Caroline and his coach, Charlie (13) was ready to race.
To qualify for the race every boy had come in the top eight at their own county championships, the prize on the day was the honour of representing England, which was bestowed only on the first eight finishers.
Watching 400 boys in a line waiting for the starting gun to fire is a sight guaranteed to raise the hairs on your neck. BANG! and they’re off. The determination on the boys faces was obvious for all to see, the pain too. In the 4.2km race, two of the young athletes pushed themselves beyond their limits and needed the paramedics. Whilst this was sad to see, it also demonstrated how hard they were pushing.
Here is a short video covering the race:
I saw Charlie run past on both laps, and filled with pride shouted “Go Charlie!”, no noise came out of my mouth, perhaps because I was overcome with emotion.
It wasn’t until after the race I found out that Charlie had lost his shoe after about 150m in thick mud. I was impressed that he had continued without it and run the whole race with one shoe. Charlie came 81st from a field of 328, as a 13-year-old he still had plenty of time left in the Junior Boys which was for under 15s. His time of 16:40 over 4.2k was less than 90 seconds behind the winner Harris Mier.
“Shoeless Charlie Wakefield” Number 446
Am I proud of Charlie? Yes of course, but also inspired by all those who took part and pleased for my brother Jeremy and his wife Caroline who tirelessly support both children to compete in the sports they enjoy.
What the future holds for “Shoeless Charlie Wakefield” who knows? but one thing is for sure, he runs like the wind……
For Nephew Harry – your time will come, and I will be there too.
Update: on 13th March 2016 Charlie was positioned 20 in the Inter Counties Cross Country in Birmingham (Under 13), he was the highest place finisher from the Eastern Counties.