Feelgood award for 81-year-old track walking champion inspired by memory of late wife

AN 81-year-old track walking champion and housing association tenant has scored another accolade after winning hearts and minds at the Proud of Barnsley Awards.

Mick Barker, who lives in Together Housing’s Lavender Court in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, found himself the proud recipient of the Milly Johnson Feelgood Awards for his inspirational story.

Barker first represented Great Britain three years ago – nearly 50 years after he last competed. Since then, he has built up quite a collection of accolades, including:

  • Bronze in the European Masters Championships, Alicante, in the 10km Road Walk
  • Gold at the GB/NI Masters Championships, Oxford, in the 10km Track Race Walk
  • Gold at the GB/NI Masters Championships, Horwich, for 5km Road Walking
  • A medal for fourth place in the World Masters Championships 5km Track Race Walk in Malaga

“I won this award in memory of my wife Marlene who inspired me to rediscover my love of track walking after she passed away four years ago. She would be so proud to see how far I’ve come,” Barker said of his Feelgood Award.

Author Milly Johnson, who presented Barker with the award, said: “I chose Mick for the award because he was in a tough category the previous year and though he didn’t win, his story brought a smile to everyone’s face.

“It was the feelgood story of the night and I never forgot him. He’s such an inspiration and there was never anyone else in the running for my new Feelgood award. He renews everyone’s belief in decency and devotion and sheer grit in a world which seems sadly lacking in those qualities and we need to be reminded of the wonderful people like Mick who walk amongst us. In short he is special!”

A former railway worker born and bred in Sheffield, Barker began walking in his teens. His achievements include winning the 12-mile Sheffield Star Walk in 1964 with a time of 98 minutes and 15 seconds – a record that still stands today.

He went on to walk for Sheffield United Harriers but gave it up in 1971 when he moved to Barnsley to open Barker’s Fruit & Vegetable shop in the Cudworth area with his wife Marlene.

However, race walking was never far from his mind. He even joined a jogging club for patients during a spell in hospital in the 1990s and later joined Barnsley Athletic Club.

After competing in many races, including the London Marathon, he gave it all up to care for Marlene 15 years ago, after she suffered two strokes.

After being in and out of hospital and care homes, Barker took it upon himself to care for his wife at home so she could be more comfortable. This meant giving up his love of walking.

“I did everything,” Barker said. “She couldn’t communicate and was bed-bound for many years. It was very difficult. As her health started worsening, I had no choice but to give up my hobby. I loved track walking, but I loved Marlene more. She needed me so I focused my full attention on looking after her.

“A few years after giving up the walking, I was still struggling to keep on top of her care, so we moved to Lavender Court. It meant we could stay together in the comfort of our own home, but she could receive specialist care as and when she needed it.”

Marlene died in 2015 aged 73 and within weeks, Barker was back out walking.

“When I gave up walking, I could never have dreamed of winning medals at my age but after Marlene died, I didn’t want to fall into the trap of staying in and moaning about aches and pains, I wanted to be fit and healthy,” he said.

“So about four or five weeks after she died, I started going for little walks. It gave me an outlet for my grief, a reason to get up and get out. About 18 months ago, I started to dream about doing the times I was doing when I was younger. I pushed myself harder and harder and now I would say I am fitter than some people in their 20s.”

Barker is now hoping to inspire others to stay young by taking up a hobby:

“My advice would be to find something you’re interested in, make enquiries and just get stuck in. Your hobby doesn’t have to be sport related – possibly something you’ve thought about many times in the past, but never taken that leap forward,” he said.

“Finding a new hobby opens up a new lease of life – it’s good to be passionate about something and it gives you the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. You might surprise yourself. Taking up a hobby can really help by acting as a therapy, it gives you a lift and makes you feel better about yourself.”

NH

Main Image: Mick Barker with his Milly Johnson Feelgood Award.

 

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