Cliffy Keenan’s  38 years of highs and lows in athletics…. [confessions of a shuffler]

From the outset I would like to point out that I do not feel over comfortable about telling my story and am only prepared to do it because my good mate Jem has asked me to write something about my involvement in the sport and she does help out in a big way with the Budget so I owe her. I also would like to apologize for the( I )letter but in this context it is hard to avoid.

I would also like to acknowledge my wife Lexie and my family for allowing me to be involved in the sport for so long and in the process they have made huge sacrifices along the way.

I first started running back in January 1977, I had in  late 1976 spent a long period of time in hospital with a serious illness and knew that I had to return to hospital  in the future for further major surgery so I decided to get fit to prepare myself for the operation.

The first few months were spent running Bellerive Beach and Lauderdale beach, either alone or on the odd occasion with my wife. I found that I was starting to enjoy the sport and started to talk with other people about it, one such person was Murray Bird who invited me to join him and his friends at lunch time. It was here that I was to meet my great friends Billy Essex, Greg Hawthorne, Mike Harding and Russell Foley. Effectively each run was a race, these guys only knew one way to train and that was flat out, I found myself regularly taking short cuts and they still managed to catch me and beat me back to town.

My first race was a handicap race at Elwick and went around where the DEC is now and my first win in a race was the same year in the Froggy Wise Handicap at Self’s Point where I outsprinted the late Graeme Fennell, who in the following season on both the track and road started to call me the bloody little squatter because I used to sit on him and  let him do all of the work and outsprint him.

You may wonder why I am in athletic circles known as Cliff, for those old enough to remember there was an ultra-marathon from Sydney to Melbourne and it was one year won by Cliff Young, my good friend Billy Essex noticed how similar our styles were and started calling me Cliffy, for some reason the name stuck and I have been known as Cliffy for over thirty years, in bike riding circles it is Crackers, the reason is pretty obvious if you follow AFL.

Running with such good friends over the years has created many wonderful and colourful memories, Billy and I used to find us getting into trouble from time to time, one such occasion was in Sandy Bay when we ran up McCauley Rd to Churchill Ave, as we reached the junction of Churchill Ave Billy spotted some mushrooms, he picked them, this upset the elderly gentleman who lived opposite, he banged on the window and as you would I gave him the bird, as a consequence he took after us in his car even attempting to drive along the footpath yelling at us to stop and if we did not threatening to call the police, Billy could not understand what I had done to upset him but needless to say he did not get to eat his mushrooms as he threw away the evidence.

On another occasion again involving Billy, I was involved in a bad fall at the 3.2km on the lower domain road, it happened as soon as the gun went off, Billy blamed me because he felt that I ran across in front of him and caused the fall, from memory about seven runners fell over, it must have stirred him up because he got up and ran sub 10 mins for the 2 miles. I still deny his accusation that it was my fault but knowing my history of getting into trouble he is probably right.

Billy was also involved when our lunch time group attempted to run over the Tasman Bridge when it was being reconstructed, from memory there was not much linking the east to the west and we were very quickly ordered off the bridge when spotted by the construction workers.

I was coached by the late and great Max Cherry who took pity on my lack of ability and managed to get me to eventually run 2.44.28 for the Cadbury Marathon in 1984, I would probably managed to run quicker if I had listened to him and not done extra training than what he had set me to do, I found myself obsessed with running 100 mile weeks and from memory ran for three years without having a day off.

I have now been on the Board of Management of Athletics South for I think over thirty years serving in the role of Winter Competition Director and am also a life member of Athletics’ South and a Merit Award Winner of AT. I also ran the Olympic Touch relay in 2000 and the Commonwealth Games Queens Message relay when the games were in Brisbane.

I have now seen the winter competition grow from just over forty runners competing each week to over 200 in the past season, it is effectively a fun run each week, members of the TRR should think about having a run, sure there is the competitive element but there is also a large number of fun runners of all shapes, ages and abilities. Everybody encourages one another and at the conclusion of the run hot drinks are available for everyone to enjoy and spot prizes to be won.

IMG_8483I suppose the two main events that I have been involved in are the Huon Valley Classic and the Budget Fun Run. Unfortunately the Huon Valley Classic because of the costs involved was only conducted for seven years, however the Budget thanks to a wonderful sponsor who have been sponsoring the run for twenty three years continues to attract good numbers and in recent times thanks to John Anderson and Jem and a new committee has taken off in a big way attracting over 1,000 entries in the past two years and as a result raising record amounts for the Paediatric Ward of the RHH. I will forever be in debt to John and Jem for becoming involved who had contacted me after a couple of  my stuff ups and offered to assist me with the run ( before that my main help in the setting up of the run was my wonderful wife)

I cannot see myself ever giving athletics away and now with the birth of the TRR am more enthusiastic than ever to stay involved, in the past twelve months I have started after a ten year absence shuffling again, and am loving having a shuffle with the fun runners; the friendships I and my family have made over many years are priceless. I still ride my bike and on the odd occasions sail my beloved Bandit, but for one big reason I am always drawn back to athletics, that is the friends I have made, I would be lost without them.

Good luck to Jem and Jay with your concept of the TRR, it has taken off in a big way, congratulations on your vision, I am very much looking forward to watching it grow and how it impacts in such a positive way on the running community of Tasmania, I wish it had been around when I started running  but come to think of it nothing was around then, no mobile phones or computers and everything that goes with them, back then if you did not have a home phone you went to the phone box on the corner, how I long for those innocent times of the past!


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