Monday, 1 October 2012

Standing in the Shoulders of Giants

Cycling was not my first sporting passion. That belongs to judo. In fact I took part in judo, and was fairly handy at it, from the age of eight until I retired a few years ago. The sport and the people who did it with me will always be close to my heart.

Anyone who has done judo for any length of time will know how important respect is within the sport. Not just the respect that you should always afford your opponent, but the respect for those senior to you.

When I first joined the university judo club having done judo since primary school in a small local club, I remember looking at some of the older members there, and some of them were very old to be on a mat (or so I thought), and wondered what they were doing there. Their sporting careers had obviously seen better days, and some of them due to injury or just wear and tear, found it difficult to move freely and fight properly.

Is it not time for them to hang up their judogi? (judo kit)

Of course, I soon learned that not only was their being there justified, it was absolutely critical.

One of these older judoka (that's what judo players are called) was Doc. When I first met him Doc was in his 70's and his knees and hips were failing him. He'd started his judo in his 40's which was late to start but that still meant he had being doing judo from before I was born. Whilst he wasn't a world medallist, he was a black belt and when you took grip with him you could tell he knew his way about a judo mat.

It wasn't his judo skills, though that were the most impressive thing about him. Doc, and a few others like him at the club were hard men. Hard men? Does that mean they went around bullying others? No. Not in the slightest. In fact Doc was one of the most generous, kind and fun loving individuals that I have had the pleasure to know. My wife on first meeting him pointed out that he had a very bright twinkle in his eye! Doc would do anything he could for you and was always happy to offer advice.

No, Doc was a real hard man. He did judo at a time when it wasn't an olympic sport, when mats weren't health and safety tested, when gyms weren't air conditioned (or sometimes properly heated) and floors were more likely to be concrete rather than sprung. He did judo, not when it was easy, but when it was hard. This showed when you met them on the mat. It didn't matter that he probably needed a knee replacement (and he had a few), he would get out on the mat and get on with it as best they could, and he would enjoy it and contribute positively.

So why are people like Doc so important?

They show us, and they certainly showed me, that if you have a passion, and if you are determined enough, you can get out and do it, enjoy it, and as Doc and many others did, contribute to the growth of the younger players. I learned a huge amount from Doc and others like him, with the most important lesson being respect. I cannot express in words how much respect I had for Doc. I hope he understood that.

You may notice that I say, 'had'. Unfortunately, I found out that Doc passed away at the weekend.

As I mentioned earlier, I stopped judo a few years ago. I wasn't as tough as these guys. Having had three knee operations I decided that I needed to keep my body going for my kids. That meant I hadn't seen many at the club, including Doc for quite a while. Obviously I feel sad about that, and wish I had one last chance to tell Doc how much I appreciated everything he did for me.

However, that's not the end of the story. Doc continues to teach me lessons. Doc was, in my mind, a giant of judo. He truly was a pair of shoulders that I felt I stood on throughout my adult judo career. However, today I am not doing judo any more, cycling is my passion. Not only do I take part in cycling, I passionately campaign to make it safer. So how does Doc's legacy help with my cycle campaigning?

I have been lucky. I have come along at a time when campaigning is getting easy. I helped to organise Pedal on Parliament at a time when the media were starting to look positively at cycling, when politicians were starting to realise that cycling could be a realistic solution to many of Scotland's ills, and when people were starting to look for an alternative to the often soul destroying daily grind to work in a car. I'm not saying that it is certain that POP will succeed in making Scotland a cycle friendly nation, far from it, there is much work and campaigning to be done. It is, however, just a much better environment to campaign in now.

My experience with Doc taught me that Pedal on Parliament only exists because of the tireless, thankless work that many campaign groups and individuals have done before. Without their hard work and dedication when the media was anti cyclist and when politicians thought that cycling had had it's day, is far more impressive that anything that POP has or probably ever will deliver. To all of those groups, many of whom are still working away in the background, I have the utmost respect for. I'm almost certain I would not have had the energy and determination that they have had over the years.

In the world of cycle campaigning my personal aproach focuses on raising awareness of issues publicly, being honest about where we are now, and what needs to be done, and I attempt to put external pressure on politicians. In fact I have found that politicians understand and often appreciate the need for such approaches to campaigning. How else would they know that people care about cycling if we didn't have 3000 people out on the streets or cyclists sending letters to them?

Not everyone agrees with my approach of course. Some prefer to work within and to build from the bottom up. Whilst I certainly respect that opinion, and I agree that we have needed in the past and continue to need a bottom up approach, I think new opportunities, both nationally and locally have arisen.  I think we should focus on and push strongly for a step change in the attitude towards cycling and cycle infrastructure funding.

This has to happen both locally and nationally.

In judo I didn't always agree with Doc. He would on occasion suggest a move or a technique to me that I didn't think would suit. He wasn't always right (and neither was I!). That, of course, in no way affected the respect I felt for Doc. Likewise, because I don't always agree with other approaches to campaigning, does not in any way detract for the respect I have for them. We need people to keep plugging away at the coal face.

However, if we don't reach for the stars, we'll never get to Mars, and so it is with campaigning.

We are at a critical time in the growth and maturity of cycling as transport. We owe it to the giants, past and present to ensure that we do everything we can now to make cycling safe for all. We must grasp the opportunity whilst we have it.

We owe it to the real campaigning hard men.

In Memory of David (Doc) Campbell.  My thoughts are with his family at this time.

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