Biggleswade Athletic Club’s committee tonight says thank you to Damien Pitts, who – following Monday’s AGM – is stepping down as chairman and brings an end to over a decade on the club committee.
“Damo” has been a stalwart member of BAC since he was at primary school, aged 11. A talented athlete from a young age, with an easy, languid style many members can now spot from half a mile away, he would often insist on tugging the coat-tails of the seniors to join them for five-mile training runs around Biggleswade. His devotion to the sport and to his club was therefore ingrained from these formative years, and in adulthood he has carried that forward in volunteering his time in so much that the club organises and participates in.
He first joined the committee 13 years ago, under Nigel Bush’s chairmanship. Four years later he became both the men’s road running captain and road secretary.
The following year he took the helm for the ever-popular Schools’ Cross Country Relays. Two years on, he progressed to become Nigel’s right-hand man as vice-chairman, before making the leap from apprentice to master as he became chair himself in 2016.
In among all this, he has managed the club’s participation in the Round Norfolk Relay, been senior marshal of the Sandy 10, as well as coaching the senior road-running group (back when it was singular) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He has organised – and assures members he will continue to organise – the much-loved Fairy Run, and although his handicapping for this festive fixture can leave something to be desired, he has been on steadier ground unpicking the age-graded results for club championship road races.
His organisation of the London Marathon support squad each year is of particular note, with his attention to detail such that BAC members have a table and a cooked breakfast in front of them seemingly microseconds before the queue for now nonexistent seats is out beyond the greasy spoon’s door.
His committee duties in recent years, particularly as chairman, have required him to park his coaching responsibilities, but he has always made it clear that he is extremely keen to get stuck in once more – members will we are sure be delighted to see him back rubbing his hands in glee pre-training before revealing what tortures await.
On a sour note, one female member requested we put on record how appalling he is as a dining companion, and warns any lady sharing a table with him to always check their handbags before leaving in case it has sprouted any cutlery. We are happy to do so. The Membership Secretary has sent her apologies for tonight’s AGM, but we understand has a tale to tell of having to go back to one particular establishment to return goods she had unwittingly stolen.
There are plenty more ways in which Mr Pitts has contributed to Biggleswade Athletic Club, and we are sure he will continue to do so as a rank-and-file member – Damo and volunteering appear inseparable. For now, we are enormously grateful for his efforts, his energy, his warmth and his empathy during a spell that was not always smooth sailing for the club, and which indeed has endured some incredibly sad days. Yet he leaves the committee with the club in a great place, and a membership blessed with international up-and-comers, reigning county champions, but – just as importantly – hard-workers, triers and improvers dead set on beating their best marks, whatever their level, and a vibrant crop of youngsters who we can only hope show a fraction of the long-term dedication to the club that he has.
Still only a ridiculously young thing, may his days ahead be filled with all the Lego, rally cars, Airfix models and ice cream money can buy. Many thanks Damo – your committee colleagues, and we are absolute sure the membership at large, salute you.
Huge thanks to Jules Mackay for contributing photos for this piece
All Biggleswade AC members are both welcome and indeed encouraged to attend.
It’s a great opportunity to get a sense of how the club is run and air your views. This year we have committee members both leaving and joining, and among those departing are BAC chairman, Damien Pitts, after an impressively long stint across various committee roles.
Last year’s AGM was sparsely attended, and it would be great to see more faces there this time round – there will be a seat for anyone who wants one! Be there, and be heard.
Monday 25th February, 7.30pm
Theatre Hall, Sandy Upper School(use the gym entrance – it’s straight ahead on the left from there)
On 9 February, at the final cross country league match of the Chiltern Cross-Country League 2018-19, an intrepid group of Biggleswade Athletic Club athletes challenged the very hilly course at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes.
The league has 10 races in each match, with the senior men running around six miles, while under-11s cover just over a mile.
First up for were the U11 girls and Orlagh Brunning and Jessica Hardy took to the race with vigour. After the initial stampede, Orlagh and Jessica settled into their stride and were well placed at the top of the first hill.
Orlagh was just outside the top 10 and Jessica mid-pack from the 100+ athletes in the race. A strong finish from both girls saw Orlagh with her best result of the season in 19th, while Jessica came a creditable 75th which enabled the U11 team to place higher in the final standings.
In the U11 boys race, George Hardy also had a good run and after positioning himself well at the top of the first hill, held his place to finish a strong 14th, which was also his best result from the season. George was joined by Alfie Lawrence, who finished strongly to cross the line in 75th.
Henry Gibb, in the U13 boys’ race, was making his cross-country debut. His race, taking place over a course of around two miles, saw him finish 61st overall. However, with Division 1 and 2 athletes running together, his division 1 and 2 place was a very creditable 13th.
Next up was Elliott Swinburne in the U17 boys’ race, which was over around 5km (just over three miles). With the extended course, Elliott was called upon to run multiple laps – so the hills had to be negotiated more than once! He had a strong race, finishing in 29th position, and placed just outside the medals in Division 2 to place fifth overall.
Finally, in the seniors race, BAC had veteran Paul Swinburne in the senior race, among a mammoth field of almost 400 finishers over the hilly multi-lap course. Paul finished in mid-pack 202nd – another best placing for the five-race season. Broken down more, in Division 2 this was a 64th place finish, and 19th in the V40 category.
In the team scores, the senior men were 21st, veteran men 18th, the U17 men 19th and the U13 boys were 11th.
It was a fantastic weekend full of outstanding performances from Biggleswade athletes at the Eastern Indoor Athletics Championships, which were held at Lee Valley Athletics Centre on the 2nd and 3rd of February.
Kicking things off for Biggleswade was Sarah Ridley in the Senior Women’s shot put. Her second-round effort of 9.93m was good enough to see her through to the final three rounds. After the further three attempts, her second round throw proved enough for a spot on the podium, with Sarah winning the bronze medal.
First to go on the track was Iona Newbegin in the U17 Women’s 60m. Iona sailed through both her heat and her semi-final, running a PB of 7.99secs along the way. Despite not getting the best start in her final, she came back at her opponents in the last few metres, and after some debate over a photo finish, Iona was awarded the bronze medal in a time of 8.03.
Sarah was back in action later on Saturday, this time in the 60m. Due to the number of athletes entered, her race became a straight final and she powered out of the blocks, running her way to a brilliant fourth place finish in 8.32. This ended the action for the Saturday, with both athletes plus many more from Biggleswade returning to Lee Valley the following day.
Jessica Cooke toed the start line in the first race of the day, the U17 women’s 300m. Despite not progressing from her heat, Jessica ran a fantastic race and finished in fifth place in 47.6secs. Sophie Forbes-Laird ran in the U15 race, finishing second in her heat, meaning she progressed to the final later on in the day. Sophie’s final was a nail-biting affair, with her going out hard and just managing to hold off the competitor who beat her previously to come home with the silver medal in a personal best performance of 42.69.
Next up were the 200m runners. The U17s were split into three heats, and the second of those saw two Biggleswade athletes walk onto the track, Abi Smith and Molly May. In her first race ever, Abi put in a stellar performance and finished fourth in 28.84, but unfortunately she missed out on a spot in the final by 0.1 seconds. Abi was closely followed by Molly, who finished fifth in her first indoor race with a superb PB of 29.63.
It was Iona’s turn in the third heat and her second place finish saw her automatically qualify for the semi-finals. She repeated that result in the semi and progressed to the final. Six races in two days plus illness seemed to have taken its toll, but Iona still finished in a strong fourth place in 26.92.
The senior women’s 800m was another straight final with Hannah Ridley wearing the yellow vest. She ran on her own for three of the four laps, but unfortunately got pipped on the line for second place, to finish third. However, she still finished with a smile and collected a bronze medal for her performance, taking the total medal tally for the weekend to four. These athletes now look forward to starting the outdoor season at the Bedfordshire Open on the 6th April in Luton, and the first league match in St Ives on the 13th April.
Biggleswade Athletic Club paid tribute to their late, lamented coach and official Sonia Brown at their annual awards ceremony in Sandy, with the committee unanimously recognising her immense contribution and naming her as Club Person of the Year.
Sonia, who succumbed to cancer last July at the age of 53, was represented on the night at Garden Court by her son Scott and husband Roger, and Scott was met with an emotional standing ovation from all present as he collected the award on her behalf. Club chairman Damien Pitts also handed the family a book of condolence that club members have been contributing to over recent months.
from Barbados in her teens, Sonia lived with her aunt in Essex and
immediately showed promise in athletics. She was the only black child
in her school, and one day the fastest boy unwisely
her to a race. Sonia won with ease, and was quickly identified as a
promising young talent. She joined up
with the successful Essex
in sprints and the long jump, and
was a contemporary of Olympic and world championship gold-medal
Sally Gunnell as
well as other Team GB internationals including multi-event specialist
Kim Hagger and 400m runner Gladys Taylor.
Ladies latterly merged with Woodford Green, and the amalgamated
club’s former president Jean Burgess said: “It was such sad news.
As she competed in the 1980s she would have been part of the team
which won the Southern Women’s League a total of 10 times in 13
find it very gratifying that Sonia was inspired by her time in Essex
Ladies to take up coaching and officiating with Biggleswade AC.”
that she very much did. The second chapter of her athletics journey
came upon arriving in Bedfordshire, where she attempted to find a
venue to help her get on the coaching ladder. After an abortive
flirtation with Bedford & County AC, she tried her luck with BAC,
and immediately found herself besotted, and
a passionate and highly committed advocate of young local talent.
Another club coaching and officiating stalwart, Ken Prior, said: “Rapidly qualifying as a level one coach, she started helping David Brown coach our sprinters. Around the same time, Cassie Prior – who had been coaching our under 11s – was leaving to start a family. Sonia took her place and named and developed the section into the Little Bees. It became so successful that, following the 2012 Olympics, for several months we had to run two sessions on Tuesdays to accommodate all the athletes.”
both had the same vision for the younger element – athletics
all, for fun, and to
People come along and develop at different speeds. Some develop at
early stage, while
don’t until much older, but Sonia
always said they should all be treated with respect. She
understood that youngsters were the heart of the club and if treated
right would be the seniors of tomorrow to help take the club beyond
the next phase.”
would go on to become a
member, helping to decide the club’s direction, as well as a
qualified field official, and both Sonia and former treasurer Mark
Stead were regularly to be found trackside and at other venues far
and wide as a valuable photo-finish tag-team. With many clubs lacking
the equipment and expertise to supply the service themselves, they
would call on Sonia and Mark, and part of her legacy can be found in
many clubs’ records, results lists and in individual athletes’
Fellow BAC coach Michael Blunt said: “Sonia was a great coach and a huge asset to the club. On a personal level she encouraged me to start coaching and having inherited one of her projects – the ‘Mini Bees’ – my aim has always been to develop a program that Sonia herself would have been proud of. The blend of enthusiasm, enjoyment and knowledge that was clear in all her sessions will be impossible to replicate but well worth aspiring to.”
was also an inspiration to Bev Strong, who said: “I first met her
eight years ago when my son Bradley joined the club in the sprint
group. He competed in the Eastern Young Athletes’ League and as his
events were quite spread out we were usually there for a long day, so
I often helped Sonia, who was officiating the field events. As a
complete novice as far as athletics were concerned, she gave me lots
of information about the rules and regulations of the various events
and after helping her for three or four years she encouraged me to
take the field officials course. I then had to perform the various
roles within each event and again Sonia was on hand to offer advice
and oversee what I was doing.
“Without Sonia by my side I have often felt out of my depth as I could always rely on her to give me an encouraging nod from a distance if I looked towards her. Words cannot express the huge loss she will be to the club and I will carry on officiating in her memory.”
Martin Oestreicher was another roped in to help by Sonia: “I first met her when my girls Kira and Heidi joined Little Bees. After helping out informally for a while, Sonia encouraged me to go on the Assistant Coaches course, which led to me helping at the sessions for about 18 months. She was such a pleasure to work with, always full of enthusiasm and praise, always smiling, encouraging and obviously devoted to getting the best out of the sometimes reluctant Little Bees. She taught me a lot about perseverance and endurance – and how to manage a crowd of small children!”
Ridley is a recent addition to the BAC committee, and a former Little
Bee who can attest that athletics under Sonia’s wing was not always
about the coach cracking the whip: “Little Bees used to be indoors
on a Monday night alongside adult circuit training. Sonia led this
and each night would end with one big relay of everyone, kids and
adults alike. One night she had to join in to make up the numbers and
was due to pass the baton over to me. She came in so fast that she
nearly took me with her and my seven-year-old legs couldn’t go that
fast! We both very nearly ended up in a big heap on the floor but
somehow managed to avoid it and win the relay!
“Years later at a EYAL meeting, our team of officials was looking after the long jump. Sonia was leading this team and I was competing. One of my jumps went horribly wrong, and I completely and spectacularly faceplanted in the sand pit. It was a completely legal jump, but didn’t get measured for about five minutes because Sonia was laughing so hard at me that she couldn’t see the tape for the tears in her eyes. She was always very supportive of her athletes, even while laughing at us!”
as her illness took hold, she remained stoic, dignified and
passionate about BAC. As David said: “I remember calling Sonia
every Monday morning until she became very ill to discuss the plan
for coaching plans for the week to follow. We’d talk about who had
performed well over the weekend, and ask were we getting our coaching
husband Roger described me as Sonia’s ‘athletic husband’ –
this was initially a surprise but I later realised it was a
compliment to the commitment of both Sonia and myself.”
her death, tributes from athletes, friends and colleagues poured in.
Club chairman Damien Pitts said: “I will really miss her cheerful
nature, as she could make me smile, even if I have had a bad day.”
Julia Mackay, a BAC run leader, added: “I always admired her drive
and energy – she was such an inspiration to all who knew her.”
Sexton: “It was such a pleasure knowing such a wonderful woman –
she was always making sure I had a way to get to training!”
Stuart Goodwin: “She made it absolutely clear to us when telling us she was ill – she didn’t wanted to be looked on with pity or as a victim. She was a cool, calm customer to the last who just wanted to live the time she had and spend as much of it drinking in the enthusiasm of the kids she trained.”
Steel: “I will miss her smile and her positive mental attitude
regardless of what came up both on and off the track.”
of the most enthusiastic and compassionate people I’ve had the
pleasure to come across. Her enthusiasm was contagious.”
was a little ray of positivity that touched many hearts including
of my boys were coached by Sonia. She inspired so many. She was a
lovely friend and so dedicated to athletics.”
made a big impression on them both. Thank
you for everything you did.”
time I saw Sonia she was busy – handing out race numbers, helping
with refreshments, coaching … But
always had a smile on her face and time for a chat.”
Louise Cant: “Thank you for giving us Little Bees, and for giving my son the best start at athletics. We will miss you dearly.”
forensic planner to the last, she requested that the dress code for
her funeral would prominently feature two colours that became
synonymous with her identity – the blue and yellow shared by both
the Barbadian flag and the Biggleswade Athletic Club vest. At her
wake in August, held at Bedford International Stadium, where she had
overseen her athletes and officiated so many times, armies of friends
and colleagues numbering well into the hundreds gathered to pay their
new club award, the Sonia Brown Dedication Cup, was introduced in her
honour, recognising exceptional commitment to the club and the sport
by one of BAC’s Little Bees – Ava Rawlins recently became the
first winner of many.
concluded: “She was a visionary with the practical nous to make
those visions happen. It was no coincidence that the most successful
period in BAC’s history occurred when she was active. She always
had new ideas and plans to make them happen.
“With no disrespect to anyone else in the club past or present, David and Sonia have been the two people who have shaped the club most within the last 25 years and I, like many others, will miss her enormously.”
Biggleswade Athletic Club honoured a host of members at their annual awards presentation night in Sandy late last month.
In the ceremony at Garden Court, athletes, officials and family members gathered for a great night of food and entertainment, as hard winter training was set aside for the night to take stock and reflect on some outstanding performances throughout 2018.
Awards were handed out covering a host of disciplines, including the club championship road events of 5km, 10km, 10 mile and half marathon, while track and field awards were dished out based on performances and points accrued for the club at the Southern Athletics League and Eastern Masters Athletics League.
Multiple award-winners included Charlie Arnold, who mopped up a superb five individual accolades, including the Complete Athlete Award. Hannah Broom, following an outstanding breakthrough season on both road and trails, took three – her improvements in 2018 saw her named the most improved female athlete of the year. Daniel Steel was named both Senior Field Athlete of the Year and the most improved male athlete.
Also handed out were various honours earned at the recent County Cross-County Championships. While many awards are purely results-based, however, two are particularly distinguished honours as they are voted for by members.
The Lonely Pines Trophy, voted for by all club members, was awarded to Bev Strong, who has combined competing for the club with vital organisation, as shown in her fine work ensuring the presentation night went smoothly. Her organisational prowess has underpinned BAC’s brilliant recent successes in the Three Counties Cross Country league, ensuring a timely turnaround of results – this has often involved hurtling from the finish line to race HQ in whatever weathers present themselves.
The Club Person of the Year is handed out following a vote by members of the club’s committee. This year the vote was unanimous, and tinged with sadness, as the committee chose to recognise its former stalwart Sonia Brown, who died last July.
The club were incredibly honoured to host both Sonia’s husband Roger and son Scott. All in attendance rose for a standing ovation as Scott collected Sonia’s award, recognising her contributions to the club as official, coach and committee member, and chairman Damien Pitts also handed the family a book of condolence that members have been contributing to over recent months.
Huge thanks from all at the club to chairman Damien Pitts for organising the awards, member Tim Gardiner who did a fine job both as DJ and Bon Jovi superfan, Bev Strong for her sterling organisation, and last but not least the staff at Garden Court who helped ensure everyone was fed and watered.
We would also like to recognise Charlie Arnold’s superb bowtie, and his sterling duck-walking skills, which were particularly prominent during The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).
2018 award winners
5km Men’s Charles Arnold Women’s Elaine Livera
10km Men’s Charles Arnold Women’s Hannah Broom
10 Mile Men’s Charles Arnold Women’s Natalie Morgan
Half marathon Men’s Marcus Davey Women’s Hannah Broom
Complete Athlete Award Charles Arnold
Endurance Trophy Nick Haworth
Most Improved Senior Athlete Men’s Daniel Steel Women’s Hannah Broom
Club Person of the Year (voted for by the club committee) Sonia Brown
Lonely Pines Trophy – Club Members’ Member of the Year Bev Strong
Senior Male Track Athlete of the Year Morgan Webster
Senior Female Track Athlete of the Year Hannah Ridley
Senior Male Field Athlete of the Year Daniel Steel
Senior Female Field Athlete of the Year Sarah Ridley
Biggleswade Athletic Club’s women’s team consolidated third place in the Three Counties league after the fifth and final fixture of the season, while the men took 11th. In combination, this added up to sixth overall.
So sadly, after three straight years of holding the women’s team trophy, BAC relinquish it to North Herts Road Runners, but finishes of fourth, first, first, third and second across the five fixtures are a superb effort and took some beating – no women’s team won more than two fixtures this season, and NHRR and Wellingborough & District AC just pipped our revamped squad with a little bit more consistency at the business end of each race.
Steven Baldwin finished 17th in the overall individual men’s standings, after taking in part in four of the five races, his best result ninth in the final fixture, and he never crossed the line lower than 28th. He was rewarded with second place in the age 25-29 category.
Hannah Broom planted her flag as the club’s ladies cross-country runner to beat, after an outstanding season that saw her finish first, fourth, third, fourth and second in the five races. This added up to a fine third place overall.
Hot on her heels were Natalie Morgan (9th), Natalie Garner (10th) and Emma Bailey (11th), while Kathryn Juty’s fine season was rewarded by 29th place overall.
Garner took second spot in the women’s age 25-29 season standings (thanks to three second placings and a third), while Morgan and Bailey took first and second respectively in the V40-44 season results – neither finished outside the top three in their category in any race they competed in this season.
Other age group award-winners were Charlie Arnold, who seared to the V60-64 top spot thanks to a sequence of fifth, third, second, first and first. Ian Grimwood took third in the V65-69 category having finished third in his category three times and fourth in his other outing this season.
admittedly alcohol-fuelled Nick Haworth writes:
The final race of
the 2018-19 Three Counties Cross Country League saw all teams
converge for battle at the grounds of Delapre Abbey in Northampton –
the site of the Battle of Northampton in 1460, a major battle in the
War of the Roses.
The course is a five-mile, two-lap route taking in a mixture of meadow and woodland – and a lot of mud – and though considered by some to be the easiest of the series it would nevertheless test the spirits and resilience of all participants.
The day itself
saw clear blue skies but with a bitingly cold north-westerly wind. A
good downpour of rain the night before ensured competitors and
spectators alike got soggy feet from the outset.
In a change from
the previous year, the start consisted of an initial oblong loop
round the meadow before a sharp left-hander through a narrow uphill
wooded section (rather than just heading straight on to the narrow
wooded section). I presume this was to avoid some of the chaos of
former years, though needless to say, it didn’t really have the
desired effect with competitors running and trampling over each
other, cursing themselves and each other, and a few partially
disemboweling themselves on the route markers – behaviour not too
unlike that back in 1460!
the meadow and an arduous, long slog up a wooded hill, the course
flattened out revealing an excellent view of the A45, before heading
twistily downwards though more trees and ankle-deep mud. Several
runners were lucky to avoid impalement on unseen tree branches, while
some came awry on numerous tree roots seemingly deliberately placed
across the path.
A flat straight section on a mixture of tarmac and mud saw the runners proceed alongside a golf course. Thankfully a hedgerow protected the runners from any wayward golf balls and the majority of runners emerged fairly unscathed.
A final left-hand
bend saw the runners head through more trees before entering the
meadow once more to begin a toilsome and hazardous second lap of the
course. The second lap, with even more freshly churned up soil, was
arguably even more hazardous than the previous, as exhaustion took
hold, speed and coordination of some began to fail. Others meanwhile
seemed to literally take it all in their stride and proceeded to gain
a few vital scalps.
Against all the
odds, most runners completed the race, be it with the occasional
missing limb, distended eye socket, or bloodified face. The vast
majority finished with smiles on their faces, most with a heavy
lacquering of mud on their legs and a few cuts and bruises.
We left the marshals to clear up the mess and proceeded on a long mile and half warm-down back to the race HQ where we were all welcomed back with tea and cakes in the comfort of a nice warm gym of a local school.
All in all,
Biggleswade AC had done surprisingly well. In the men’s team,
Steven Baldwin finished an admirable ninth place overall – his best
performance of the season. Newcomer Alan Kell, though not able to
score officially for the team, finished 68th, outsprinting
Nick Haworth (63rd) in the last 50 yards himself just
ahead of fellow vet Paul Cooke (78th). Behind them came
Charlie “Killer” Arnold, securing 91st place and the
V60 men’s award, followed by Jon Stott (127th), Neil Harvey
(180th), Giles Hawthorne (196th), and Robin
successfully challenged and beat arch-rival Christine Lathwell from
Stopsley Striders coming in third place for the ladies. Natalie
Garner finished a commendable 9th just ahead of Natalie Morgan (11th)
and Emma Bailey (14th).
The men’s team finished the season in 11th place while the women’s team came third, giving a combined position of sixth.
Kell said: “This
was my first cross country run for the club and by all accounts I had
timed it well as it was the supposably easiest of this seasons
courses. Well after that first steady incline on the first lap, I
soon realised those other courses must have been tough. This was hard
but great fun! Running (or sliding) through the woods and battling
against the wind across the open fields. A fantastic event with great
support from both the marshals and Bigglesswade team.”
Julie Spavins added: “The final cross country of the season was also the coldest! Despite the freezing conditions we had a good turnout and even some new recruits to the ladies team.
“The course was
changed slightly, adding an extra half a mile over the rather
draining grassy area, before the slog up the not too steep but
neverending hill. The mud was certainly churned by the time I was
coming through the woods, but I managed to avoid slipping over, and
also managed some overtakes of the runners who were a bit ‘nervous’
of so much mucky stuff, before coming back on to the grassy area and
the biting wind blowing in the wrong direction. This year I managed
to keep running up the incline on both laps, way better than last
year! And despite being half a mile longer, I came in five minutes
quicker and like the rest of the season I’m further up the field.
“Our team has performed brilliantly this season, and I’m very proud to have played my very small part in our success.”
Huge thanks to Nick Spavins for his superb photography at Three Counties XC fixtures this season