22 November 2015
A TRIBUTE TO JIM BEISTY
On November 10, aged 81-year-old, the distance running community lost one of its finest JIM BEISTY. Known as the ‘Godfather’ of distance running in Newcastle Beisty was an athlete, coach, administrator and great supporter of running. Two athletes he coach, father and son, Stan and Michael Barwick delivered a touching eulogy at Beisty’s funeral. They have allowed us to print this tribute to Jim Beisty.
Jim’s love affair with running began as a child in Liverpool, where he and his mates would run for miles and often chase the Lorries loaded with raw nuts heading to the markets. They became quite adept at mounting the relatively slow-moving vehicles to relieve them of some of their goods.
Jim played soccer, cricket and rugby with his mates and first ran track and cross country at age 16 as a member of the Liverpool Pembroke Club. His inspiration was the great distance runner, Emil Zatopek, “The Czech Locomotive”. From his example he learnt that while success will not come without hard work, an indomitable will to win is far more important.
Jim lived for the race of mud and road, and the noisy discussion of performance that followed. However he was impatient to reach the level of his club’s stars and paid the penalty with numerous leg injuries.
He forced his way into club relay teams, winning a silver medal in the Lancashire County Road Relays in 1954 and a bronze in 1958. In 1981, son Mike ran for Pembroke in the same event, winning a silver medal and running twenty seconds faster than Jim’s best time. Their silver medals sit proudly together in the family collection.
Jim won very few individual events, but took great delight in taking out his club’s novice cross country championship. In 1958 he decided to tackle the longer road races, starting with the Pembroke Club 20 miles. While Jim admits it was an inauspicious debut, he ran it again in 1962 and improved his time by almost 18 minutes which convinced him that he could run a marathon.
His first race over the marathon distance was in Derbyshire three weeks later where he ran 2.38.18 on a very tough course in adverse conditions - an outstanding effort. Seven weeks after that he ran another marathon in a time over 5 minutes slower and then one week later he took part in the famous Ben Nevis race in Scotland, a run to the top of and back down the highest peak in Britain.
For the next month, not surprisingly, he struggled to run and his season was over - he hadn’t yet learnt the lessons he would later pass on to the athletes he coached.
At this time he and Sue had made the decision to move to Canada and they sailed for Montreal in the first week of April 1963.
Jim believed that running is a positive addiction and after a few harrowing days on board he started to feel the addiction and began running up and down stairs, along narrow gang-ways and from deck to deck. The distance runners in the room will relate to this.
He found work in Hamilton, the industrial heart of Ontario, and joined the Hamilton Olympic Club where he met a man he would often speak to me about, Whitey Sheridan. Whitey introduced him to the local runners and events and he and his wife, Eileen, became great friends of Jim and Sue.
While in Canada, running continued to absorb most of Jim’s energy however, because of particular challenges in his job, his enthusiasm peaked and waned and this was reflected in his results. He found the winter weather difficult to deal with however he continued to train, sometimes through a foot of snow on the road and at other times around school corridors for speed work.
Jim competed in marathons in Quebec, Toronto, Boston and Detroit, but never quite reached his cherished goal of sub 2hours 30 minutes. He also competed in many other events, but another cherished goal of a sub 50 minutes 10 miles eluded him. He did, however, run a personal best time of 14.41 for three miles on the track.
Jim was never coached and made the observation while in Canada that self-taught runners often have a fool for a coach, and said he was no exception.
In 1968 Jim and Sue made the decision to move to Australia. They spent six weeks in Wollongong where Jim joined the Sutherland Athletics Club. Here he met and ran with one of his heroes, Dave Power. Dave had won the six miles and marathon gold medals at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff.
The next move was to Melbourne where he joined the Glenhuntly Athletics Club. He was to meet and run with Hans Tiller and more of his heroes including Ron Clarke, Derek Clayton, Pat Clohessy, Tony Cook, John Coyle and Trevor Vincent. He felt privileged to join them as a member of one of the world’s great athletics clubs. They were to spend many pleasurable hours challenging the Dandenongs and Caulfield Racecourse.
In 1972, Jim and his family moved to Newcastle. This was around the same time that my wife, Sue, and I did likewise and it marked the beginning of a special friendship that has endured. It was also the beginning of a journey that would take Jim from running with his heroes to becoming one.
In those early days in Newcastle, he enjoyed running with Allan Ross and Hans Tiller. In later years it was running or walking with Warren Hardy, Brian Mills and any of the Vets who needed company. The Fernleigh Track will never be the same without that cheerful greeting, “Hello lad” - a Scouser to the end.
When I had a hip replacement in 2007, Jim came over to our place every morning and we would walk slowly up and down our street before I was able to throw the stick away and graduate to the Fernleigh Track. He always put the needs of others before his own.
I have vivid memories of the time spent at the old cinders track in National Park Street. Jim was always there to offer advice and support. It remains one of my greatest regrets that I didn’t ask him to coach me earlier in my career. I relate easily to his observation on self-coached athletes.
During our interactions I admired not only Jim’s knowledge of middle distance and distance running and its history, but also his quiet, confident demeanour, his philosophy not only on running, but life in general and his methodical approach to training.
I saw him as an “academic” of the sport and when I had a serious injury that was potentially career-ending I asked Jim if he would coach me. He agreed and we formed a partnership that won us the State 1500 title that year.
Apart from Mike and wife Sue (both talented and successful athletes) I was the first runner that Jim coached formally. Many more followed, some of whom competed with distinction at State, National and International level. They include David Forbes who became the first NSW runner to go under 3.40 for the 1500 metres, David Lightfoot, Dave Rundle and Jason Maxwell.
There were many other athletes who were attracted to Jim and his squad over time - he would never turn away an athlete who wanted to improve and was willing to work hard and give of his or her best.
The athletes mentioned above have described Jim as more than a coach - he was a life coach, mentor and role model. He was a man of the highest integrity, respected by all. Jim received a lot from his love of running, but he put much more back into it.
He was generous with his time and was always there for training and competition, wherever it might be and whatever the weather conditions - often at considerable personal expense. Both “Forbesey” and I recall Jim at the old cinders track and the University Oval standing beside the track, stopwatch in hand, in the pouring rain or blazing heat. He was there for his athletes in low times to commiserate and high times to celebrate.
He has been variously described by those who know him well as honest, courageous, passionate, pragmatic, loyal, supportive, expert, dedicated, humble, resilient, strong, perceptive, candid, caring, funny, understanding, encouraging, generous, non-judgemental, wise and a gentleman. He never looked for excuses or took shortcuts, and always accepted the umpire’s decision. Some man our Jim!
It is interesting to note that many of the athletes Jim coached went on to coach young athletes themselves and they will all tell you they have adopted the Beisty philosophy and methodology.
In 1979 Jim founded his beloved Newcastle Veterans Club and remained involved until his death. He served terms as Secretary and President and performed with distinction in Veterans events at local, State, National and International levels. Jim would often say that if he stayed alive long enough he would become a World Champion one day.
In 1989, Jim talked me into coming out of retirement to run in the World Veterans’ Championships in Eugene, Oregon and on the way there, the United States National Masters Track and Field Championships in San Diego. We stopped over in Hawaii to finalise Jim’s preparation for the Men’s 55 years 5k and 10k, and mine for the Men’s 40 years 800 metres. It was a fantastic experience and a great holiday for us and our wives, however Jim’s Sue has never forgiven me for keeping him out late one night in Honolulu and stitching him up big time.
A highlight of his life was when he and Mike attended the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch in 1974. There they witnessed one of the greatest runs of all time when Filbert Bayi broke the world record for 1500 metres. In 2000, Sue B, Michael B. and I joined Jim and Sue at the Sydney Olympics where we saw the German, Nils Schumann, beat Wilson Kipketer in the 800 final and the great Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj in the semi finals of the 1500 metres. The purist in Jim was overjoyed watching competition at this level.
Another athlete he coached to success is our son, Michael, who achieved outstanding results Nationally at 800 metres after transitioning from a successful career in Rugby League. He had no background in Athletics and it is my belief that what Jim and Michael achieved was the result of a combination of coaching genius and amazing natural talent.
“Meggsy” will now say a few words about Jim’s impact on his career and his life.
As I was growing up I always admired Jim Beisty as a man full of life, energy, pride and passion.
I really valued our family’s friendship with the Beisty family and loved listening as stories were told of days gone by and experiences shared. I also loved how Jim, in his straightforward and honest way, would put Dad in his place telling him “That’s crap Stan” as Dad would try to stir him up in lively conversation. When I decided in late 1998 that I wanted to have a go at athletics, I was honoured and humbled when Jim accepted my request for him to become my coach. This meant that not only would I now have the great privilege of training under the guidance of Jim, but also for the first time I would be spending regular time with someone that actually had skinnier legs than me.
Jim’s coaching reflected the man himself - honest, respectful, thoughtful and inspiring. Jim was never big on motivational rants, but you wanted to run well for him because of the person he was and the appreciation you had for the time, effort and passion he was putting in to bring out your best. Jim had enormous patience and would persevere when things were going badly and would heartily encourage you to do the same.
Jim led the way through his actions. I would turn up to training and see him hunched over having just completed the session he was about to put me through. He would have his hands on his knees, dried spit all over the side of his face, battling for breath and he would stand up, pat me on the back and say “Tough session today mate”.
Jim was never deterred by the weather, in fact the worse it got the more he thrived on it. When we would train in the pouring rain and howling wind Jim loved it - his face would light up as he said, “Only us real runners out today Mike.” Jim always joked that you needed to be a bit mad in the head to be a distance runner and perhaps he had some of that.
Over the years Jim’s squad grew with some very welcome additions. Jeff Farelly, Gabriel Long and David Newham joined in, proudly becoming the next generation of “The Beisty Boys”. They added great character, ability and atmosphere to training.
Warren Spooner and many of the Newcastle Vets were always warmly welcomed by Jim at training and we were often blessed to be joined by Scott Westcott, sending Jim’s level of excitement through the roof as he marvelled at Scott’s tenacity and work ethic. Jim was also thrilled at this time by the return of Dave Forbes as he prepared for a tilt at the World Masters Games. Jim knew that Forbesy’s attitude and experience would be invaluable in trying to teach us what training and racing was all about.
Jim formed a very strong bond with Gabriel after meeting him at a cross country race in 2001. After a very turbulent and colourful life growing up in Sudan, Gabe deserved the stroke of luck he received in meeting people the quality of Jim and Sue Beisty. They took Gabe under their wing and showed him an enormous amount of friendship, respect and support.
Jim was rare in his ability to carry himself without ego or arrogance. He became affectionately known as the Godfather of running in the Hunter. He was proud of his involvement with his beloved Newcastle Vets and Newcastle Cross Country, always encouraging his athletes to compete in and support local running and add to the rich history he so fondly spoke of.
Later in life Jim became a valued member of the Five 30 runners and was a huge supporter of the local Park Run events. Jim completed 98 Park Runs and joined another Aussie legend, Sir Donald Bradman, in falling just short of that magic 100 mark. Jim selflessly acted as a volunteer for 39 Park Runs where his high fives at the half way point at the Newy Park Run endeared him to a whole new legion of runners.
The letters R.I.P have always meant Rest in Peace. I say in Jim’s case we change that. Bugger the rest part, let’s change that to run. Run in peace Jim - run as fast as you want for as long as you want with whoever you want. Shuffle along in that Jim Beisty style inspiring everyone and lighting up lives. Run in Peace Jim, we are all running right beside you.
Jim loved his Knights and the Jets, but most of all he loved his family - especially “Sweet Sue”. Jim, we will look after her.
There is nothing more painful than losing a loved one and today I know that the people here share that pain with Jim’s family.
Jim wrote in his book, “in life one meets few really “big” men who, over the really long haul, demonstrate a constancy of character”. James Kenneth “Jim” Beisty you’re as big as it gets.
A race well run - rest in peace Jim. You are a very special man and a great mate. We will all miss you tremendously. You can’t be replaced.