Chris Jones headed to Hemel Hempstead to catch up with the club and find out more about their activities.
Visiting along with Chris were National Council and Board Member Mick Shortland, Club Support Manager (Herts, Essex and North London) John Harris and Facilities & Planning Manager, Jonathan Lee.
There to welcome the group to the club’s base at Jarman Park, was Club Secretary Sylvia Fitzwilliam. Sylvia is one of the many to have become involved in the sport through her children, she became a volunteer at the club when her son, Steven, was a young athlete at the club, and Sylvia’s service of the club is still going strong.
While the rain was pouring down outside there was also a steady flow of athletes arriving for training. On arrival they all made their way to the serving hatch to pay their training subs. Collecting the money and talking to all the athletes was Diane Ratcliffe. Diane and her husband Gerald joined the Club in the late 1970s. Diane became involved when her late husband joined as an athlete. He was followed by each of their three sons, and Diane has had an extensive involvement not only in the club but also in the wider sport in roles as athlete, an Official, club team manager, Herts County Athletics Committee member, with Herts County Athletics Network… and much more besides including producing the club newsletter.
As the track & field athletes started to head outside to their training groups, the increasing number of high vis jackets was a sure sign that the road runners were also starting to assemble ready to head out on the roads. While people were gathering the Club Membership Secretary John Slack held an induction session for another group of new junior members, before he then heading off into the rain with the road runners.
Chris and the others pulled up their hoods and headed outside to brave the elements and see the sessions that were going on.
Dacorum & Tring AC has existed in its present form since 1995 when Dacorum Athletic Club and Tring Athletic Club merged to become Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club. The two clubs had been in existence before that since 1976 and 1980 respectively.
On the way out to the track one of the first people Chris and the others were introduced to was Deborah Keenleyside. Deborah coaches Phillipa Lowe who was part of the British 4 x 400m team which won silver at the European Indoor Championships this year. As well as coaching Deborah has also had successes in the sport as an international athlete in both senior and Masters competitions.
While the weather was far from ideal for training there were a large number of athletes in action. The club has a membership of over 500 active and social members aged from 10yrs to 70 plus. Junior Coach Petra Carroll holds sessions for under 10’s on Saturday mornings; they are too young to be members of the club but may progress to membership at the age of 11. Petra was also in action on the track on the Tuesday in the rain with her Under 13’s.
The membership is split fairly evenly between the road runners and track and field, with the road section available to athletes aged 16 and over. Many of the road runners are parents of youngsters who train with the track and field squads
One of the coaches leading a group was endurance coach Mike Dunphy. Mike first qualified as a coach in the early 1970s and among the athletes currently in the group is the National Under 17 Cross Country Champion, Kristian Imroth. Mike is one of those who went through Borough Road College (now part of Brunel University) to train as a PE teacher as part of his development in the sport.
On the back straight among those coaching were Rob Wright, Danielle Town and Summer Clarke. Summer is one of the young coaches that the club has supported to start taking their coaching qualifications and be involved in the club as a volunteer in this role.
Around the track various sessions were taking place and as well as the coaches one of the volunteers to appear through the rain was Mike Smith. Mike had just been appointed as club chair – literally taking up the post the night before the visit.
As well as talking about the activities going on the volunteers from the club were able to tell Chris, John, Jonathan and Mick about the club’s activities. This included explaining that there are also sessions that take place indoors during the winter, at a local school, and a broader conversation about facilities.
The coaches and other volunteers also explained something of the club’s involvement in a range of leagues and competitions.
As well as championships events, the club competes in the Eastern Young Athletes league and Southern Athletics League for track and field. The Masters have a team in the North of the Thames mid-week league.
In the winter months athletes from both the track and field and road runners’ sections compete in Cross Country events including the Chiltern League and Northwest London League. The club has seen success in developing athletes across a range of events.
One particularly familiar name, and very familiar voice for athletics fans, among the membership is that of Paul Dickenson. Paul is club president. As an athlete he competed in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics, as well as holding the British and Commonwealth Records for the hammer before moving into working as a key member of the athletics commentary team at the BBC.
Chris commented, “It was excellent to see the activities of the club and how so many of the athletes, coaches and volunteers were clearly enjoying a training night despite the pouring rain.
“It is always important to speak to a range of volunteers in different roles to understand how our work can best support them.
“I was encouraged to see the club has a wide range of ages amongst its volunteers. Dacorum and Tring have people who have given outstanding service over many years, as well as supporting younger members of the club in taking on important volunteer roles that help the club deliver its full range of activities.”