Walkin still runnin’
John Walkin is that rare thing – a Mayo sprinter
“I’M a pioneer,” says John Walkin, “but if I got gold, I think I might go for a drink!”
Many sportspeople see their careers winding down or already over by the time they hit their mid-30s. But the Castlebar athlete is targeting next year’s move into the masters grade as his best chance of achieving his dream. He’s targeting an individual medal at All-Ireland level and would accept one of any colour, but outright victory would ‘mean the world’ to Walkin, who is that rare thing – a Mayo sprinter.
“I have Connacht titles, I have All-Ireland relay medals, but the one I’m after is the All-Ireland individual medal,” he explained. “I haven’t got it yet. I’ve come close to it, but I haven’t got it yet. So that’s my main focus, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get that.”
The Mayo AC member has spent recent years competing at senior level against ‘lads who are 12 or 13 years younger’ than him. But his 35th birthday on January 4 will make him eligible for the masters grade when, all of a sudden, he’ll be at the right end of the age spectrum. Not that the competition won’t be fierce.
“[There are] guys that have represented Ireland, [who] might have gone away a couple of years, and now they’re coming back into the masters,” he explains. “Paul McKee, the Olympian, ran in Athlone two years ago and broke the national record for 60 [metres] and 200 [metres] on his first outing.”
Walkin, who has worked at Allergan in Westport since 2006 (and has been on the night shift for the past year), has eight Connacht 60 metres indoor titles to his name, seven silver medals and two bronze. He’s also bagged three Connacht 100 metres outdoor titles, eight Mayo 100 metres titles, and was part of a Mayo team that won two All-Ireland relay medals – silver in the 4x100 and bronze in the 4x200. His personal best for 60 metres is 7.2 seconds, which he achieved in Belfast back in 2003 running alongside the British sprinter Darren Campbell. But as recently as last year, he ran 7.62, a time which should be good enough to secure a medal in 2015 if he could manage a repeat performance.
Sprinting was always his thing. He won the 100 metres three years in a row at the Breaffy Sports Day – at under-12, under-13 and under-14 level. He won an under-16 gold medal at the Mayo Championships in Westport. That victory produced a memorable response from his his late grandfather, Gerard Walkin, who had encouraged him to give the sport a go.
“I’d say he probably ran faster than I did!” John says of his grand-dad. “He ran up to me, picked me up in the air and spun me around … I was 16 [and] a big lump of a lad, and he was in his eighties! The joy in his face, I’ll never forget it. He was very special to me. There was no one on this planet like him.”
Paddy Kearney, who won numerous sprint titles, got him set up on starting blocks and gave him drills and ‘proper training’ to do in his late teens. And for over a decade, Walkin has been training on his own, having qualified as a sports massage therapist and learned the ins and outs of rehabilitation. As the sole sprinter with Mayo AC, his training is done alone – “It’s a lot of work, and it’s only for seven seconds,” laughs the man whose ‘bread and butter’ is the 60 metres indoor race. When the distance is so short, sprinting is a game of millimetres, not inches.
“You’d have half a second between first and last, about four or five strides,” he said. “In a 60-metre [race], by the time you’re out of the blocks and you’re coming up into your drive phase, the race is half over. If you miss the start, you might as well just stop running, turn around and pack your bags.”
Living in Meadow Park on the Westport Road in Castlebar, he does much of his training on the gravel track behind GMIT, and does some pre-race preparation at the new track in Claremorris. Before he had a car, he’d hop on the bus to Galway, get a taxi out to Dangan, train, then get a return taxi and bus – all in aid of simulating what he could expect to face on a tartan track in competition.
It’s not easy, and he couldn’t do it without the support of his family, especially his wife Christina, the ‘unsung hero’ who ‘picks up an awful lot of slack’, particularly in relation to their three children – Tara, Aoife and Shane, and deals with him being ‘like a bloody bear’ if a training session goes badly or he picks up an injury.
“It’s extremely difficult sometimes to get up and get out, especially on Saturdays and Sundays – you’d like a lie-in when you’re working during the week,” he says. “But you just have to kind of blank it and just go out and just do it. If you want to get your goal, you have to put in sacrifices like that.”
Name: John Walkin
Lives: Meadow Park, Castlebar
Works: Allergan, Westport
Club: Mayo AC
What three words would you use to describe your sporting year so far?
Frustrating, Building, Refocused.
What was your sporting highlight of the last 12 months?
Winning a silver medal in the Connacht Indoor Championships held in Athlone coming back from injury.
What was your biggest sporting disappointment of the last 12 months?
A grade-three tear of my calf muscle during winter training and being out for nearly ten weeks.
What was your resolution for the next 12 months?
Rehabilitation, rebuild, and put the head down with the sole aim of winning a gold medal at All-Irelands in January 2015 in Athlone.
Who is your ‘one to watch’ in athletics in 2014?
Adam Gemili, who competed in the 200m at the 2013 World Outdoor Championship in Moscow and ran 19.98 in the final – the second fastest ever time ran by a Briton. Richard Kielty, the World Indoor champion 2014 in Poland. And one for the future – Zharnel Hughes, an 18-year-old Anguillan (one of the Caribbean islands) who trains with Usain Bolt.
Who will the Sam Maguire Cup in 2014?
Mayo, of course. I think they have the structures and experiences in place to do it this year. At 6/1 in Paddy Power’s, they’re a very good bet. Third time lucky!
Three people you’d like to train with?
Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Michael Johnson
What three things would you bring to a desert island?
Training gear, a two-litre bottle of Coke, and a Domino’s pizza.
Your motto in three words?
Dedication, determination, focus.