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WILD COOT: Running like hell

Harry Russell

WILD COOT: Running like hell

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A couple of weeks ago I attended sports day at Harrison College, primarily to collect my grandson, and a flood of memories came charging back.
March this year will be the 57th anniversary year of a beautiful event that transpired in 1957. It was sports day at Harrison College and the Wild Coot was captain of House C. The housemaster, Major Sam Headley, was giving full support to the track team and we wanted to win the cup. We were ahead on points on the previous day in the preliminaries. The marquee event on sports day was the Class I 100 yards sprint. In those days, it was done on a grass track against the wind. Word had gone out that a bet existed between Marson Mayers of House D and Harold Russell of House C; at stake was $5 (20 per cent of school fees).
Major Headley had told me: “You could beat him because I see that in a house football match even if Marson got away at the halfway line, you caught him before he could shoot.”
That morning I sought out Tootie Warren (the singer), and asked him to lend me his spikes. I was looking forward to the race. I rued the absence of Rudi Webster, who was not participating that year. Among the line-up for the race were Alston Fergusson, Roger Marville, Austin Sealy, Peter Ward, ‘Tuckerd’ Husbands and Marson Mayers.
Mayers had gone all over the school boasting about his bullet start. It involved having both feet close together at the start in order to give a quick getaway. He won his heat easily in the preliminaries. I was using the more conventional wide stance and won my heat without spikes. We had no blocks. All was set for the race on sports day. There was a hush around the heavily attended grounds. Mr Stanton Gittens gave instructions to the participants, took his position behind the runners and raised his canon. “On your marks . . . Se. .t”  . . . Buhdow.
It was the best start that I have ever got, as I wasn’t at that time a good starter. That day it was perfect. When I hit 50 yards, the field was even. I remembered Major Headley’s words, ‘Lift Russell, lift’. (The higher the lift and reach, the longer the stride.) I was in Lane 1 while Mayers was in Lane 8 on the outside. At 70 yards I missed him out of the corner of my eye, and I knew that I had him licked.
That day, lactic acid did not come into play, and it was all about heading for the tape. There was no need to rush or lean, I just burst through at top speed as if it were not the end of the race.
I knew that I had won the $5, and my worry of having to find it if I had lost was dispelled. The first person to greet me was Elombe (Elton Mottley in those days). “Russell, you know what time you did? I just checked with Captain Hunte. You broke the record. Mr Hutt clocked you at 9.8 and Captain Hunte 9.9. Even Pat Haynes and Austin Husbands could not beat that 10 flat record.”
That day I emerged victor ludorum, winning the 220 yards and the 440 yards and finishing the relay. At the end of the day I got to shake Mr Hammond’s wife’s hand and was presented with a cup.
Knowing that I could run gave me the courage one day to say to a Guyanese policeman participating at the annual police sports at Sabina Park, Jamaica: “You remember in Barbados a few years ago, when there was an invitation 200 metres race, looking back during the race and beckoning to two young sprinters and embarrassing them in front of the crowd at Kensington? That was me and a fellow called Blackie; well today you are going to eat dirt off my spikes.” And so he did. It was sweet revenge.
Running was great. I got down to 10.2 in metres on a cinder track running for Barbados in the 9th Central American & Caribbean Games but did not make the final that was won by Tom Robinson in 10 flat. I had no time to train when the duties of a career took over. My running days were confined to rugby, which I played until age 39 when the doctor stopped me. Vicious tackling was affecting the blood flow to the brain. The brain has never recovered.
Wordsworth talks about the bliss of solitude; it does not only come with dancing with the daffodils.
 Harry Russell is a banker.