The news had come through from the local Track & Field Club; I’d been selected to run a leg of the 1982 Commonwealth Games Relay as the Queens Baton wormed its way up the coast to Brisbane. I was 12 years old. There was one problem, I was a sprinter, the 100m, 200m and occasionally under sufferance the 400m. The distance I had to run with the baton through my hometown of Budgewoi was a little under 3km, oh no.
I’d never run that far in my life, I’d barely walked that far. Mum and Dad were adamant I could do it “No worries” said Mum, “Dad will get you ready”. The game was on, the long distance game, my sprinter’s instincts were put on hold, it’s all about the long game now.
So, most nights after work at the hardware store Dad and I would set off from our Buff Point house before dinner on a slow jog, and I mean slow, trudging along past the barking dog, the dim street lights, the random passing car, we were on a mission, some nights my sister Kristen would join us, each night we’d go a little further and pick up the pace, some nights it was cold, the beanie’s would come out, I was Rocky, Dad the trainer.
As the nights turned into weeks I was feeling more confident, I could do this, hey I’d walk the last kilometer if I had to but there was no time for doubts as the day had arrived, Mum and Dad drove me down to the road hugging Budgewoi Beach, where I was receiving the baton, it was raining, I was nervous, I’ll admit it.
The Police and torch organizers directed me into position, here I was in my short shorts (hey, it was the 80’s), Queens Relay t-shirt and bowl haircut. Even in the rain the streets were lined with people, waving flags. I could see off in the distance the runner approaching surrounded by more Police. The moment was here, my chest was beating, the figure was getting closer, truth be told I can’t even remember who gave me the baton; I was in some kind of trance.
Now I’ve got the baton, I turn and start running and it feels good, really good, the crowd is giving encouragement ‘Go David’, ‘Hey David’, I see friends of my Parents, kids from school, locals I’ve never met, the Policeman on his motorcycle is in front of me another one is behind, they must be going slow because I’m not exactly Flash Gordon out there.
I make it over the bridge through suburbia, along the Budgewoi Shops, I’m well over halfway and feeling good, hey maybe I should give up sprinting and switch to long distance. It’s still raining but nobody seems to care, I come around a sweeping bend and see the next runner off in the distance, now I’m starting to feel hamstring heavy shall we say, no problem as I trundle on.
My bowl haircut keeps bobbing up and down and as I get closer I’m actually thinking I’m not sure I want to hand this thing over, maybe I should take it all the way to Brisbane. Ah maybe not, with a tinge of regret I hand it over and my work here is done.
What a thrill. Years later I would get this honor again, in 2006 carrying the baton along the exact same road as a 36 year old for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, no rain or worries about making the distance this time around though, in glorious sunshine and in the wheelchair, this journey was a breeze and just as thrilling.