WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
A semi-retired athlete twelve months ago, 3,000m steeplechaser Stuart Stokes will compete in his third Commonwealth Games next month and now settled into a new life, the dedicated athlete has high hopes leading up to 2012, writes Nicola Bamford.
For the 33-year-old Bolton runner, his days are long and hectic – fuelled by his passion to reach his athletic dream and to additionally provide for his young family. Not only has he recently become a father for the first time but Stokes has also just begun life as a PE teacher – arduously ensuring that training begins before 5am daily.
Disheartened with the politics of the sport in 2008, Stokes spent last year running for fun but is now very much back to his committed best:
“Mine is a pretty hectic day now but it’s amazing how much you can fit in if you stay focused, disciplined and remain positive,” Stokes explained.
“2008 was a strange year because most of my rivals either changed sports or events - I suspect somewhat disheartened as well. It’s been nice this year trying to help out the steeple event by pace-making the few races I’ve ran in.”
The sacrifices and dedication are nothing to the athlete who once caused controversy whilst at the same time, attracting much praise and admiration from his peers - such is his pride when wearing the national vest.
The ‘outburst’ came during the post-race interview at the European team championships in Portugal last summer where Stokes – who answered Team GB’s last-minute call to race to spontaneously come out of semi-retirement - spoke out in protest for disgruntled athletes who failed to make the 2008 Olympic team despite fairly earning selection.
The outspoken view summed up Stokes perfectly – passionate, patriotic and a people-person. The Sale Harrier was after all, in his element when proudly wearing the England apparel in the past two Commonwealth Games in 2002 and 2006, where he finished fourth and fifth over the barriers, respectively.
“I’m very much looking forward to Delhi,” Stokes revealed about the Commonwealth’s next month.
“I’ve never been there before and it’s one of the blessings we have as sports people that we get to travel and see some wonderful places and experience different cultures. My goal is to have fun, enjoy the experience, race hard and perform well but ultimately step off the track knowing I could not have given any more."
Few would have guessed that the likeable Lancashire lad - who would be the first to admit that age is not on his side – would be heading to India for the October 6th-14th event as a medal challenger once more.
“My training has changed so much over the years, as I’ve got older I’ve had to firstly adapt to the way my body has changed and what it can still cope with but also at the start of every year I always look for ways to improve on training methods of the previous year,” Stokes explained.
“Not just from a running perspective, but whether my nutrition could be better, are my weights and strength work the best they can be, are the supplements I’m taking the best to help my body recover - as I’ve got older and the margins for improvement narrow I’ve realised the devil is in the detail.”
Despite the upheaval in his life of late, Stokes’ times on the track and road this summer have not been far off his best marks set in 2008, registering an impressive 8:33.30 (3,000m steeplechase) and 30:03 (10km road) recently.
Stokes has only raced over the barriers on four occasions this summer so as to delay his fitness ‘peak’ until the Games in India. Whilst his times have been consistent and encouraging, he also captured the English championship crown and more recently upstaged many of Britain’s distance specialists over a 10km in Sheffield.
“It’s been a strange season to some extent as for me, as it’s only just getting going,” Stokes revealed.
“I had a couple of niggles earlier in the year but luckily this year there was the opportunity to go to the Commonwealth’s and with it being quite late in the year it has actually worked out quite well.”
Admitting he is not blessed with great talent, Stokes continued:
“I’m most proud of the way I’ve approached trying to be the best athlete I can be. I’ve never won championship medals so people can often mistakenly think that you aren’t training hard enough or you aren’t dedicated enough but I can honestly say over the years I couldn’t give anymore and I’m not sure there are many athletes who can say that.
I’ve worked incredibly hard in getting the best out of my body. I think back to 2008 when my wife was pregnant but I knew if I carried on doing the training I was doing, I wouldn’t run the Olympic standard.
I bought a one-way ticket to morocco and knew I wasn’t coming home till I felt I could run sub-8:24. I was away thirteen-weeks in total and thanks to some incredibly hard training and an even more incredibly understanding wife, I managed to run 8:23.
I’m proud of the journey I’ve been on and I’m not sure how many other British athletes would have done that.”
Stokes’ next appearance will be for England in the annual England V Australia two-mile match in the BUPA Great North City Games in Newcastle next weekend and should his dedication pay off in the remainder of 2010, then Stokes will aim for the ultimate post-retirement gift – a place in the London Olympic squad in 2012.