Terry O’Gara – my own personal tribute

I love running, I always have. School sports day was always the highlight of my time at school as I loved to compete against others, pretty much from the age of 5! My brother joined our local running club, Wallsend Harriers, way back in 1984. As soon as he returned from his first training session I wanted to know what he done, who he met, how hard it was, did he enjoy it? The answers were purely for my own benefit as I knew that a year later, as soon as I reached the age of 10, I was going to join as well.

He told me about the lads he ran with, Knoxy, Anth, Barnie. He told me about the coaches, Bill, Dave and Danny. He told me about the lads who were in charge, Terry, Gordon, George. About a year later I turned up and met everyone my brother had talked about. I recognized them all instantly, just from his descriptions. Everyone apart from one. Now I was 10 years old, everyone was big to me, everyone was taller than me. I was the smallest there by some distance, it was quite intimidating. It was obvious who was in charge yet instead of being the tall, powerful, sturdy man I had expected, he was slight, light on his feet and didn’t look tough at all! How wrong could I have been, his name was Terry O’Gara.

From the minute I met Terry it was obvious that he loved running and loved Wallsend Harriers. Even though I was only 10 years old he spoke to me like he spoke to everyone – openly, honestly with a bit of cheek and a firmness that made you realise that this man was not to be crossed. ‘So then kidda, you think you can run? Howay, try to keep up with me for a lap’ I remember him saying one night.

When I watched Terry run I realised that not only was he a natural leader with an infectious personality but he was some runner as well! I’d heard that he had ran 72 minutes for a half marathon at the age of 46, it was a few years later when I realised how good that actually was, I wish I had told him at the time. I think I may have said ‘not bad that like Terry, bet you couldn’t beat me though!’ as the cocky teenager I was.

The years have passed and I have had some great times with Wallsend Harriers. I ran races, got fit, got injured, got fit again, went in the army, got married, made bonds and friendships that would never be broken (Terry’s son, Steve, was best man at my wedding). The years have taken their toll yet one thing always remained the same – Terry was the boss. When I first joined Wallsend Harriers he was Honorary Secretary then moved to Chairman at the turn of the century. I had a few years away from the sport when I was in the army but when I returned Terry was still there, still winning races. Now well into his 60s his enthusiasm was as infectious as ever and everyone at Wallsend Harriers loved him to bits and rightly so.

In November 2011 Terry finally gained International honours. To say it was long overdue would be a massive understatement. Terry had been on the edge of International selection for many years but for one reason or another had never quite made the final cut. At the tender age of 70 years old he was to gain his first England vest at the GB and Ireland Masters Cross Country International at Glasgow and I was not going to miss it for the world.

I travelled to Glasgow on the morning of the race with a friend, both excited about seeing our Chairman, our friend, our hero, compete for England for the first time. It was cold, so cold I could hardly speak. It was windy, so windy that portaloos were being blown over (luckily not while people were in them!). It was raining, raining so hard that no matter how many layers you had on you were soaked to the skin within minutes. Then Terry ran…. He ran like nothing I’ve ever seen before, he paced it perfectly, ran up the hills like they were flat, went over the mud like there was a glass sheet over it, the guy was incredible. I stood about 200 metres from the finish, alongside his doting wife, daughter and grandchildren and I couldn’t actually cheer him on. Not because it was cold and wet, it was because I was so awe struck at what this 70 year old was doing. I tried to shout, try to give that bit of encouragement as he hit the finishing straight but nothing came out, I just stood there aghast at what he had achieved. Terry finished 2nd in the race, I was star struck after the race, this man really WAS a legend, a hero, an inspiration and I stood back and admired as the champagne was cracked open shortly after the finish.

Crossing the line at that International race would be Terry’s last competitive steps. Shortly after he returned Doctors found a bloody big tumour in his brain. The response to his illness was incredible. He didn’t moan, he didn’t feel sorry for himself, he simply got on with. People flocked from all over the area to share memories and laughs with the great man. It was a sad time, everyone at Wallsend Harriers were devastated, this was Terry, he had just ran for England, things like this don’t happen to people like him. Unfortunately it was happening and the only thing we could do was to pay our respects and be there for him and his family. Like the fighter he is, he fought off that blasted tumor, surgeons removed it and he had done it, he’d won again! However, there were complications after the operation and Terry passed away peacefully in the company of his family last weekend. I will always remember the last time I seen him, days before the tumour was going to be removed, he was chatty and funny, impressed that I was soon to do a half marathon yet still joked ‘bet you won’t beat my PB though’ with that cheeky smile he added ‘let me know how everyone does will you’.

Terry was a leader, our leader. Never have I come across anyone who was so honest, humble, inspiring and warming. Yes, it’s tragic that he has gone but I, along with numerous others at Wallsend Harriers, the club he led so honourably for so many years, will use his influence to keep going, to keep pushing, never giving up, never giving up on our dreams. Do it for Terry, he was one in a million. I can see Wallsend Harriers becoming stronger than ever…..and we will all know why.

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