Chaplain’s Column: Here we go again

The football season seems to get shorter with every year that passes. I never expect to be preparing for my first programme article for 2017 / 2018 in early July, but the visit of Rangers tonight has given me that opportunity. I have great memories of Ards hosting pre-season friendlies in the early 1990s against the likes of Manchester City, Sunderland, Nottingham Forest and Everton. In more recent times, the big names have tended to travel further afield in pre-season, so tonight it is great for our club to be able to welcome Rangers and their supports to Bangor Fuels Arena.

Although we didn’t have a World Cup or European Championships this summer, there has been no shortage of sports to enjoy, including an exciting British Lions tour of New Zealand, the Irish open at Portstewart and Wimbledon. My sport of preference has always been football, but during summers of my childhood I remember the sport we played changed as the major events came along. The start of summer was always tennis; golf would follow during and after the British Open, and then we would be inspired to play cricket after watching Ian Botham on TV.

There is one sporting event this summer that will live long in memory, though I’ll admit that most people reading this will never have heard of it. At the start of July, Belfast hosted the 24-hour Ultra-Marathon World Championships, which is the running equivalent of the La Mon 24-hour motor race, with these involved running continuously a one-mile track for 24 hours.

Over 400 athletes from 40 countries participated, with the winning athlete covering over 166 miles during the race! Sports Chaplaincy UK were invited to welcome the athletes as they arrived, to attend the Opening Ceremony, and to be present at the event. I was honoured to be asked to be a part of the Sports Chaplaincy team, and it was an experience that I will never forget.

Preparing for, and participating in, such a physically demanding event requires and exceptional amount of dedication, strong determination and mental strength. There is little financial reward – it is all about the challenge. You may have hard about marathon runners “hitting the wall” where their mind plays tricks on them and they feel an overwhelming urge to quit. The runners that I met told me that they experience this battle multiple times during an ultra-marathon.

The camaraderie and respect amongst the participants was great to see, and the conclusion of the race was an emotional experience for everyone in attendance – yes, there was a winner, but anyone who completed the race was a winner as they had won a battle of body and mind to get to the end of the race. I was inspired by the dedication, focus and mental strength of those involved. Their achievement shows that when we find something that we are passionate about, focus our energy, and prepare well, we CAN achieve so much more than we could ever imagine.

Now there’s a though!
Sam Magill