Last week was somewhat of a tough and strange ten days to say the least. Personally, I was coming off the back of two back to back competitions, the Canadian Grand Prix followed the weekend later by the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest. I was feeling the effects of all the travelling, competition preparation and fighting last Monday morning. I was heading out to meet a friend at 10am, just as I was walking to the car my phone rang, it was my coach Luke.
“Dan, Dan, I’ve got some bad news mate” Luke was in the middle of coaching a session, quickly relayed the news of Craig’s (Fallon) untimely passing, asked if I was ok and then said he had to go. A devastating numbness fell over me. For now, all I can muster is that I have been friends with Craig for over a decade, from being in awe of his abilities and humility sharing the mat and downtime with him as a teenager in the Midlands, particularly at Wolverhampton Judo Club, to living and training together full time in Camberley and sharing rooms on senior trips. I am so privileged that one of my childhood heroes became one of my friends, I shall miss Craig dearly and am absolutely heartbroken for his family and the small and tight close circle of friends that I know that he had around him.
Last Friday Luke and I travelled to the funeral of another pioneer of Judo in our country, the late Tony MacConnell. As I said it’s been a really busy month and that day was no exception, we did the near 600 mile round trip and attended Tony’s service and wake in just over 14 hours. Luke and I joked as we pulled off the M6 towards Kendal, we both agreed that enjoying a relaxing break in The Lakes would never be possible for either of us. Where some may see scenery consisting of rolling hills, running streams and postcard picturesque fields with stone walls separated by clad iron gates, some of us, those attending regular training camps for many years, see sprint tracks, January outdoor cold water submersion pools, and long, winding log carrying paths. Kendal was where character was grown, and in the words of Cynthia Eden, “there is no growth without pain”.
For those unaware, Kendal was the first full time Judo training centre in the country. Tony and the lads that he coached were instrumental in building a culture that still somewhat exists today. Long before the days of lottery and UK Sport financial support those men went on the dole, shared beds, slept on floors and mats, literally busked their way around the country and world to pursue their dreams. They created a system by which average people, through effort, could become champions; these ideas and methods have been emulated and furthered by other generations and setups. For a long time I’ve used thoughts of those men and women that have trained full time before me. When I wasn’t sure about where I was going, living in the Judo Club and having doubts about my future, I’d remind myself that nearly all those people that made those sacrifices were all successful in whatever they chose to do after finishing competing. Carl Finney, who was one of the original Kendal players always used to say that if you put one third of the effort that you put into Judo into work or business after that you would do very well, Carl is a shining example of that. Some of the current self funding pathway is somewhat of a throw back to the older days with players receiving no national governing body financial support and having to find their own funds for numerous competitions and training camps across the world. At times, if money has been tight or I’ve been getting frustrated with certain aspects of the lifestyle and need to get over myself I remember that there were plenty of people before me that had it far worse, those that begged, stole and borrowed with real blind faith to create something that I’m so happy and proud to be a part of. At a time when Judo in Britain is somewhat divided I think it’s important to recall that we are all part of the British lineage that those forward thinking, passionate and committed people built.
I was very fortunate to see Tony a few days before he passed, he came to watch a session that I was part of. It was great to chat briefly to him again, he was still sharp as a razor, even bollocked us lads for “letting a lady put mats away”! To see his funeral packed out with so many successful individuals that he affected positively is testimony in itself to what he did with his time here. Travel well and rest in peace Tony. Thank you.
Croatian Grand Prix in Zagreb this weekend for the rest of the Camberley and British team.