Last week we learned that one of our longest serving and most successful coaches, Sheila Atkinson had decided to step down from her coaching duties after 36 years. We probably shouldn’t have been surprised as Sheila is now 77 years of age and has spent most of her adult life volunteering in one capacity or another.
The current restrictions on track access in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ever changing risk assessments were the final straw for Sheila.
Plans to award Sheila with Life Membership of the club were brought forward and while we can’t make a formal presentation until October next year, we felt she should be aware of how highly she’s been regarded by the Committee, fellow coaches and our membership.
Sheila has been involved in athletics since the age of 12 when she joined the North Shields Polytechnic Club in Tyne and Wear. Her preferred events were the sprints, long jump and shot put. She must have had talent because she represented Northumberland in the 80yard hurdles and the long jump at the National Schools Championships.
Sheila worked at the Trustee Savings Bank in Glasgow before she and her husband Brian settled in Torrance to raise their three sons. She returned to work after the children had grown up and worked as a teaching auxiliary at Campsie View School.
Like many of our coaches, Sheila followed her three sons to Scotstoun when they joined Victoria Park. All three were talented athletes with Mark achieving success in the 400m flat, Stephen in Long Jump, and his twin Graeme in 400m Hurdles.
Fortunately for the club, Sheila wasn’t going to stand at the trackside and was recruited by the then Secretary Wallace Crawford to join the coaching team.
Sheila introduced hundreds of youngsters to track and field athletics in her dual roles of coach and team manager. She worked closely with Kate Young and Hugh Baillie in a very successful period for the club.
Her time was well spent and she nurtured the likes of David Martin, Calum Innes and Gregor Innes to success in her specialist events of 110m hurdles and 400m hurdles.
David won the 400m hurdles at the English AAA Championships in Birmingham in 2005 and was part of the gold medal winning 4x400m relay team that represented Great Britain at the European Junior Championships at Hengelo, Netherlands in 2007. Gregor was 2nd in the 400m hurdles at the English AAA Championships at Don Valley in 2007 and Calum represented Scotland at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India in 2008.
Her hurdles group was very highly rated and Sheila was mentored by none other than Nick Dakin (head coach, Loughborough) and due to her success, the great David Hemery (Olympic Gold 1968) was encouraged North to work with her group on a number of occasions.
It wasn’t all hard work of course, Sheila enjoyed her annual warm weather training sessions with the group in Portugal, Malta and Tenerife. Her group was always in the best physical shape so it came as no surprise when out for an evening meal with 10 of her group on Byers Road, she was asked by a waitress to explain her popularity with all these young men.
In 36 years of coaching, Sheila unearthed a few diamonds and shared in their success when collecting silverware around the world but our gratitude is for the hours and hours she spent standing at the trackside, stop watch in hand in all weathers, which made each of her group better athletes and hopefully better well rounded adults. If they go on to make a fraction of the contribution to our community that Sheila has, we’ll all be in a better place.
Although Sheila is stepping down from coaching, she’ll continue to volunteer as a church elder at Baldernock Parish Church where she’s served since 1968, she’ll continue to serve on the women’s guild committee and volunteer at Riding for the disabled where she has served for the last 20 years.