Wales Owes A Debt To The Modern Day Alfs And Alfesses

With the Commonwealth Games poised to begin in Australia, Owen Morgan salutes the Welsh competitors who all put a shift in even before they get to the track, pool, or stadium.

The athletic exploits of working class comic book hero Alf Tupper thrilled and enthralled generations of youngsters throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s and beyond.

By night, the “Tough of the Track” would tackle mammoth welding jobs, often in makeshift workshops under railway arches.

Our hero would usually complete the job with seconds to spare before hot footing it to the White City stadium where he would run the legs off the elite of British athletics.

All this fuelled by a diet of half-eaten fish suppers, wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper, and little or no sleep.

Tupper epitomised the hard-working underdog, who always overcame massive odds and obstacles to beat his more privileged opponents on the track.

A glance at the lifestyles of today’s superstar sports stars would suggest the days of top class athletes like Tupper juggling careers on and off the track are long gone, thanks to the advent of professionalism in the sport.

Caryl Granville combines athletics with her job as a cardiac physiologist. Pic: Getty Images.

But a look through the Welsh athletics team preparing to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Australia this week proves the spirit of Alf Tupper is alive and well.

It’s not quite a team of butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers, but among the full-time athletes in the team there are also medical professionals, teachers, office workers, a dog-walker and even a part-time model, who all hold down  jobs away from their commitments as international standard athletes.

Hurdler Caryl Granville would certainly empathise with Alf Tupper staying up all night to complete a welding order the night before a race.

The specialist cardiac physiologist is regularly on call 24-hours a day. It’s not uncommon for her to be called to the University of Wales Hospital in Cardiff in the middle of the night to tend to heart attack victims and then face a full day’s work and training the following day.

However, far from hampering her athletics career, her profession helps inspire her to greater efforts on the track.

The Swansea Harrier, who has overcome serious injury to qualify for the Gold Coast games, says: “Seeing patients experiencing the worst day of their life having a heart attack, or some other cardiac event, inspires me to achieve as much as I possibly can while I’m able to. Life is short!”

Granville isn’t the only medical professional on the team.

Caryl Jones. Pic: Owen Morgan.

Steeplechaser Jonathan Hopkins fits his training around his work as an occupational therapist at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend.

Marathon runner Eli Kirk is a qualified doctor, while Welsh record-breaking hammer thrower Osian Jones is a pharmacist.

Race walker Bethan Davies is a neuroscientist and research assistant in the Cardiff Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia Research Group at the city’s university.

Sally Peake, a silver medallist in the pole vault at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, was back in Cardiff putting in a shift as a physiotherapist within a couple of days after competing in Glasgow.

The Birchfield Harrier recalls: “I competed on the Saturday, we got transport back to Cardiff on the Monday and I was back in work on the Tuesday.

“Most athletes have to work in some other capacity. I’m privileged because of the work that I do I am able to work part time, I can work around my training because I do it privately, I don’t work for the NHS.

“I’m very lucky because that’s what I’m able to do. But it does make it more difficult to have a job as well. The public don’t really see all the behind the scenes stuff leading up to what you do on the day in competition.”

Sally Peake. Pic: Owen Morgan.

Education is another profession well represented in the team. Marathon runner Andy Davies is a PE teacher, while long jumper Rebecca Chapman is a lecturer and coach at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

T47 100m sprinter Morgan Jones is a teaching assistant at Caldicot School and studies MSc Sport and Exercise Science at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Meanwhile, marathon runner Caryl Jones not only holds down one job outside athletics but two!

The 30-year-old’s typical working day starts at around 5.30am, lasts 14-plus hours, includes two stints on the family farms, a six hour shift as a chartered accountant and two training runs which will contribute to the 100-plus miles she clocks up during a week.

Jones says:  “You just get on with it. Everyone asks how I do it . . . I don’t really know. But if I sit at home, I’m bored. I’ve just got to keep busy.”

“When you enjoy doing something it’s not a job is it? I enjoy being out with the animals, it’s great.”

Ieuan Thomas. Pic: Getty Images.

Steeplechaser Ieuan Thomas, works with 1500 metre runner Tom Marshall for Treforest-based company Sporttape, who help both men accommodate the training regime which has seen them both qualify for the Commonwealths.

Thomas explains how they manage to hold down full-time jobs and train as international athletes.

“Having two runners there in the company is really beneficial because you’ve got your standard hours, the set nine-to-five , so it’s easier to plan around that and then train together.

“So as long as I’ve got my schedule, I know that I can go out and do my first run and first lifting session in the morning. I go to work, I can do my normal office day, and then in the evening I can come out and do the group session or Tom and I can go for a longer run.

“I think the main thing when it comes to employment is just understanding what your priorities are.”

Thomas also appreciates the support he gets from family and friends, as well as his employers, to allow him to train – something all the athletes would recognise and appreciate.

Thomas says: “I’m very lucky that I’ve got a huge support group around me and people who appreciate that running takes up a lot of my time, so we’ve got these priorities and I know that every morning and every evening that’s my slot to train and then there’s a very small amount of time when I can fit in other social activities as well.

Boxer Rosie Eccles. Pic: Twitter.

“If you know what your priorities are and what your hours are, if you can set them as much as you possibly can, you can just plan things in and don’t be afraid to get up early and do your first set of exercises!”

This kind of dedication is not only confined to the athletics contingent of Team Wales. You will find similar stories throughout all the other sports.

People like swimmer Bethan Sloan, who paused a chemistry degree to pursue her ambitions in the pool. The Cowbridge product works part-time in retail and hospitality as well as tutoring A-level chemistry students.

Meanwhile, boxer Rosie Eccles, from Chepstow, is a full time MSc student in Sport Psychology at Cardiff Metropolitan University, but also works as a cycle courier, racing around the streets of Cardiff delivering restaurant food.

No matter how many medals our athletes bring back from the Gold Coast, we should be enormously proud of the sheer dedication and determination they have displayed to even qualify for the games – full-time athletes or not.

There is no doubt they will do their nation proud . . . they already have just by getting to Australia.

Alf would definitely approve.


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