For a brief moment in early Winter, the school would throw together a cross country team which was made up of everybody who had any running ability. We would have to train twice a week in the evenings after school which would then set us up for a big meet with other local schools.
The course started on a rugby field and headed straight for a smooth sided ditch which was around 4-5 feet deep and probably 7-8 feet wide. Just before the starting gun was fired, the teachers started to hose down the ditch with water!
For the first few runners it was simply a matter of jumping into the ditch and clambering up the other side. For the rest us (probably 150-200 runners) it became a mass of slippery muddy boys trying to grab whatever they could to get out of the mess. Sometimes to get yourself up you simply trod somebody else down. I usually came out of that ditch totally covered in mud and barely hanging on to my shorts!
Then there was the annual Inter-House sports day. Everyone, without exception, had to participate and “represent your House”. One year, as I did not volunteer for any event, the wisdom of the day decided that “Chappell…… you are in the mile.” I remember so well lining up with the other runners. I was in regular running shoes while my competition was geared up with running spikes (not that it would have any impact on the eventual outcome!).
The gun went off and I chased the other runners around the track but, having no concept of pace or even of racing a mile, the other runners started pulling away from me towards the end of lap 1. Lap 2 was much the same story so I was basically running my own race …… and getting rather confused because as I started lap 3, I somehow thought that it was my last lap. I was so glad to cross the Finish Line but, unfortunately, I was not allowed to stop because everybody was shouting “Get back on the track. You have one more lap to go!” There is something quite humbling, and isolating, about running around a 440yd track knowing that all your competition had long finished.
For some unfathomable (to me) reason, it was decided on one sports afternoon that perhaps the discus was my event and I should practice accordingly. Throwing a discus, for anybody who does not know, consists of holding a relatively heavy “flying saucer” shaped object; twisting one’s body as if coiling up a spring, and then uncoiling as fast as you can and letting go of the discus at the appropriate time. The appropriate time can be tricky because you are letting go of it while still turning.
You can then stand and watch it slice its way through the air until it lands some distance away. I thought that I was pretty good at discus because it landed a long way away however, letting go at the right moment was always my challenge.
Alongside our school field was a road, on the other side of which were numerous large homes. My discus throwing career ended abruptly one sunny Thursday afternoon. I was “wound up” for the throw; unleashed my coiled springs, and watched my discus soar gracefully high over the school fence; across the road and into a front garden. Something about a liability was mentioned and a decision was made that I have never understood to this day. “Chappell ……. Go and practice throwing a javelin”!
To be continued