Inspirational man walking!

Yours truly would never claim to be an aficionado of athletics. That should be different given the family history, but quite a keen interest is held therein. Particularly cross country fare – that’s probably the farmer coming out in me! There are times though when one wonders what pleasure could be derived from what is – in some codes of athletics at least – gruelling individual pursuit. Each to their own I guess. That’s not to say that those who go the athletic road and indeed prosper aren’t held in the highest admiration. Of course they are, especially with the regularity with which medals tend to be hoovered up by certain people very close to home!

Now, it might seem obvious that long distance running – whether it be on the track or in marathons or even in cross country – would be the most arduous of all the disciplines. That may not be so, however, as competitive race walking seems to be a particularly difficult skill to master.
As with many athletic events sadly – and this unfortunately applies to cycling as well – race walking tends to be sometimes shrouded in suspicion. Maybe not in the same way as some other sports though. Just because the definition of what competitive actually is appears to be so finite that there are times when, to the untrained eye, the perception that competitors are nearly half running some of the time is hard to avoid.
It couldn’t be the case though, simply because competitive walking seems to be one of the best policed sports going. Strange as it may seem, in an era when many sports are over regulated, in this case it’s reassuring to see a tight rein kept on things. Not because of a feeling there’s blatant wrongdoing, more that it appears to be an extremely technical activity. Yes, that is a bit ironic!
Penalties seem to be dished out like confetti. Indeed, the event that brought about production of this article was skating an icy line with regard to happening at all because of the said penalties. That it didn’t come a cropper is testament to the man who at long last got a thoroughly deserved day in the sun.
You know you’re the quintessential sports ‘nut’ when you become familiar with characters in areas that wouldn’t be considered mainstream and their achievements. For example, Ian Wiley would’ve been recognised as the best  Irish canoeist for a long time before the emergence of Eoin Rheinisch. Similarly, following the unfortunate defections of Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin, Kevin O’Brien is now the most notable Irish player in cricket.
Cork’s Rob Heffernan fills that role in race walking. And has done for as long as can be recalled. Gut feeling always was that one day he may reach the very top in his sport. At 35, after the Olympics last year in London, the overwhelming sense was that his chance may have passed.
Especially as he had finished fourth in a major competition, yet again. Finishing fourth at major championships such as the Olympics or the European Championships or the World Championships must be akin to ordering a Big Mac only to be told there are burger buns left but no meat!
Every so often though, something happens that reminds you that, albeit occasionally, dreams do come true. After all, certain people did recently really become a farmer. And on Tuesday, August 13th, Heffernan duly harvested golden reward for years of dedication to and excellence in his chosen field when – at long last – he came home in first place at the World Championships in Russia.
The momentous event wasn’t, it must be admitted seen live as these wheels were out following the harvest locally. To much curiosity, as ever. But, as was said earlier, everyone has their ‘thing’ and being in and around farming is, and forever will be, a beloved and cherished form of therapy.
Even watching a recording of events in Moscow, however, things were hovering between a lump in the throat and welling up. Proof that a dream should never be given up on. While Heffernan’s margin of victory was emphatic – and achieved in the fastest time in the world this year by more than three minutes – in other ways it was a close shave as he actually came within one warning of being disqualified. All good stories need a bit of drama!

Chances are, Heffernan’s terrific triumph will lead to a surge in those taking up race walking. That’s what usually happens in these cases. More luck to them. So, if you encounter herds of walkers – or a wheelchair in the middle of a field for that matter – don’t try figuring what enjoyment could be in that, just be happy that the people thus engaged are happy being so.

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