Bill Porter on how athletics helped him win the biggest race of his life
RUNNING is everything to Bill Porter. It's occupied his dreams for decades. It's helped shape his social life. It's given him the best of friends, brought him all over the world and earned him a multitude of accolades and achievements. It's also, according to the man himself, helped him beat off the destructive hand of cancer.
The Rathdrum man is something of an energetic entity. He currently holds the chair of Wicklow Athletics, is heavily involved in his own club Parnell Athletic Club, fundraises regularly for Wicklow Hospice, is a member of the Cancer Support Group in Rathdrum, runs the Avonmore Sports shop in the town and also finds time to do the thing he loves the most, run.
But the man who has ran 11 marathons and who has five Wicklow Senior Cross Country titles to his name firmly believes that the sport of running helped him beat cancer that struck in 2002.
"Running helped me defeat the cancer. Being healthy before I got sick helped me," said Bill.
But being a sore loser the cancer succeeded in inflicting some permanent damage and it left Bill with an enlarged heart.
"I have an enlarged heart, it's known as heart failure. The good thing for heart failure is exercise. Being fit makes a big difference. I'll have to exercise for the rest of my life but it's what I want to do. Mentally and physically the running has made a difference. I was knocked for six when I found out about the cancer. But it was more about getting my head around it. I had a business, family, kids, I was too busy to be sick. But the support from all the athletes all over Wicklow and all over Ireland and from my family and friends was unbelievable," he added.
It's early on a Saturday morning. Bill Porter has just finished feverishly hovering his shop floor on Rathdrum's main street. In less than half an hour he has to go running. Then he has to pick up a tux to wear to the premier of Lincoln on Sunday, starring Daniel Day Lewis, who is a member of Parnell Athletic Club. For now though he can have a cup of tea, a chat and take calls on his hyperactive phone.
Talk is obviously on athletics. He reminisces about the 1980s in Irish athletics when the likes of Gerry Curtis and Jerry Kiernan were storming around the tracks and inspiring a generation of runners. And we don't make it far until we turn to Parnell Athletic Club and one name stands out from the crowd for Bill.
"Our running club was founded in 1970. It was started by people like Eddie Shaughnessy, Jimmy Kearns, Tom Desmond, Breda Gahan, Jimmy Olan and Patsy Gallagher. There's probably a few more names but it's hard to think of them on the spot.
"One of our biggest successes in the club is a guy called Mick Byrne. Mick won more national medals than anyone else in the club. He holds the European 10,000m on the road and has won the European bronze for the 10,000m on the road. Mick will run this year in Czech Republic in the European Road Championship between March 10 and 13.
"I'm very confident that he has a good chance. He's a very confident runner. He's only after winning a gold medal for Ireland in Belfast last November," he added.
Looking at the bigger picture of Wicklow athletics there is of course one name that dominates the conversation and that's the name of Fionnula Britton. Bill believes that the Kilcoole AC runner is the most aggressive and determined athlete he has ever seen anywhere in the world and it's that dedication that has her where she is today.
"Fionnuala has won three Junior National Cross Country titles, three Intercounty Cross Country titles, three Senior Cross Country titles, she came second in the European U23s and she's the only Irish person to have won two European Cross Country titles as an individual and she also won the team gold.
"Running is a great sport but it's hard work. You have to be very dedicated and Fionnuala has that dedication. She's the most aggressive and determined runner I've ever seen and she's the most modest athlete in athletics. You'd have to hand it to everybody involved in her life, from her parents Eoin and Ellen, to Pat Diskin who coached her in the early days and to Chris Jones who is Fionnuala's current coach. I can tell you she's a hard person to keep up with on the track.
"But there's a good buzz in Wicklow athletics at the moment and that's all down to Fionnuala Britton. Fionnuala has brought athetics to a new level. She is the number one athlete in Ireland at the moment. And on a personal note it's a real honour to be chairperson of Wicklow Athletics at the moment especially when Fionnuala has won the Europeans. We're so happy for her," said Bill.
Of course there a many more athletes flying the Wicklow flag at all levels. Wicklow Athletics held their awards last week and all those award winners are running at the top of their game says Bill.
"We can't forget Stephanie Reilly who went to the Olympics with Fionnuala, there's Roisin McGettigan, Deirdre Byrne and for the future I think you can keep an eye on Tara Jameson who is in America on a scholarship and Niamh Kearney from Greystones as well as many more," he added.
Time is getting short now. Bill's phone is hopping. It's not everyday that someone gets to walk the red carpet with the likes of Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, and Steven Spielberg. Day Lewis is a current member of Parnell Athletic Club but more importantly says Bill he's just an ordinary guy.
"He's an ordinary guy and a fabulous actor. He would have made a European champion at masters level in athletics if he wanted to. He's won Golden Globes and Oscars but he would have won a European at masters level no problem. He has that determination. Some people are born to be winners. We're all competitive but there's an extra will to win in those people. It's great to be going to the premier but it also brings in huge money for the Wicklow Hospice and that's all down to Daniel Day Lewis," said Bill who adds that another fine actor is also a proud member of Parnell Athletic Club.
"We're very lucky to have Pat Nolan who played Barry in Fair City as a member of the club. But the likes of Barry and Daniel are just part of the club. Everyone is welcome here. They are only one of the lads," he added.
And then Bill's tea is finished, his scone demolished and he's off to conquer the world. Whether it's helping to guide and develop Wicklow athletics, running a business or beating cancer into a disappointing second place in the biggest race of his life, it's safe to say that Rathdrum's Bill Porter won't be stopped any time soon.