I’ve wanted to write about my recent experiences competing/ training overseas for a while now, but I’ve struggled to put sentences together without falling off topic and talking about one of the greatest people I’ve ever met.
My story with Tom Kelly began in 2004 when I was introduced to him as a little athletics athlete looking to join a seniors club. Not knowing anything about Tom, I was a bit skeptical of the short little Irish man who was bracing himself before shaking my hand. As the feeling returned to my fingers I would not have guessed how many memories we would have as well as the amounts adventures and experiences we would face together.
I wasn’t much of an athlete when I first came to Tom, but that was the amazing thing about him. He didn’t look for God given talent; he looked for determination and drive. I came to him as a mediocre sprinter that only ever trained once a week but still he saw something in me as he would often call me at home and try persuade me to train more frequently and to try out some of the longer events. He always said to me “if you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll achieve the result”.
Tom’s work ethic was contagious; there was never a day Tom missed training, unless he was tied up in hospital having heart surgery, but even then he was back 3 days later to run around the track opening gates and commanding the troops. I could never understand how someone getting coached by Tom wouldn’t put in the same amount of effort, as I would often find myself training on Public/ Christmas holidays doing “special” training sessions which usually meant training in the morning and listening to the splits of athletes such as Paul Patrick and Brad Camp.
With Tom your goals grew by the year, from breaking the illusive 2 minute barrier for the 800m to qualifying for the 2014 Commonwealth Games; no mountain was too high. Fast forward a few years and we’re sitting in Flightcentre planning our International trip, something he’d done with so many before me. However our trip was to be a little different to what he used to do with his past Olympic athletes; while we were there to compete, we were also there to learn what was required to take us to the next level. (Thank you Alex Rowe for making that blatantly obvious ! ).
We based ourselves in Cologne, Germany along with several other Australian athletes vying to qualify and prepare for the 2013 World Championships. I may not have been in any serious contention for the Australian selection after injuring both my Achilles just weeks before departing but I was still keen to learn as much as I could and take in the experience of being an international athlete.
Tom and I set the goal of trying to run quicker every race we entered in, as I would slowly become more “race fit” and begin to feel comfortable racing unfamiliar competitors. While every race was different, it was nice to have certain similarities; Nathan Down, my training partner beside me and a coach watching from the sidelines recording splits on his hand. Even though the times weren’t great to start off with, the experiences were priceless. For anyone that’s unaware of European racing, placing means nothing, it’s all about time! As soon as the starters gun goes, it’s a “free for all” to find position. Often the first 200m split of an 800m was in 24 high, a clear indication that no one was there for any “tactical” affairs.
If there was ever a time to run personal bests, the European Circuit provided many opportunities, whether it was the perfect pace making or the electricity in the air from the thousands of keen athletic supporters watching, every race had the making to be fast. However I found running a fast time wasn’t the be all and end all. If you had to choose, would it be getting pulled around the track in a super-fast time or would it be the knowledge and motivation to run fast consistently? Sorry Rowey for consistently dropping your name, but it seems to fit in pretty well. In my opinion, Alex didn’t run as well as he did JUST on the basis of his training, but mainly because he was so focused and sure of himself that it didn’t matter who he was lining up against, bigger the name, bigger the scalp. Usually before a race I’d be pretty nervous, especially if I was about to face off against the likes of Duane Solomon and Charles Jock. However “Candy-Crushing” track-side just moments before the call room showed me a level of confidence that Usain Bolt must possess.
I’m sure this realization was something Tommy wanted us to get out of our trip. He never tried to force facts and knowledge down our throats, rather wanted us to learn through experiences. When describing some of the competitors I’d be racing to him prior to race day, he often said “They’re skin and bone just like YOU, they’ve been working just as hard as YOU, there’s no reason why they should beat YOU”. He’d then proceed with “C’mon now laddie, get mov’n”, and the conversation would be over.
For those that knew Tom, I’m sure they’d know that he was full of motivational quotes. Whenever he saw words that would provide some sort of encouragement, he’d jot them down on anything that would hold ink – usually receipts or bits of tissue (that would usually get lost). Dom Sutton would back me up here when I say that he spent many nights reciting words of wisdom to make us “think”, and subconsciously convince ourselves that our bodies hold no limit – something I’m sure he lived by. “If an 80 year old Nun from Tipperary can jump out of a plane, so can I” or “If you boys are riding from Belgium to the Netherlands, I’m coming with” were just some of the quotes I hope to be saying when I’m 82.
You wouldn’t think a man of his age, travelling around with a bunch of 20 year old “larrikins” would work very well, and at times it didn’t, but somehow I think the main purpose of us being there was achieved. Being able to priorities athletics and properly understand the lifestyle and sacrifices required to compete at an International level gave us the motivation to come home and really apply ourselves so that next time we go over, we can really make an impact. I may not have run any personal best times, but I’ve come back with some added encouragement; if an 80 year old coach is willing to follow me around the world, rain, hail or shine for the love of the sport, surely I can give a similar level of commitment.
This ‘can do’, ‘limitless’ attitude has been instilled in everyone that has ever been associated with him. Even though he’s not around at the top of the 100m straight anymore keeping a close eye on the troops, I’m sure that when you find that extra little something in your legs as you come down the home straight while training or racing– Tom has something to do with it.
I’d like to finish with a quote Tom liked to say to us before a race
“If you’re going through hell, keep going”
Thanks to Saucony and Body Health Osteopathy for the ongoing support.