The Thing is with Steve Canavan

It was a huge day in the Canavan household on Tuesday – my daughter Mary’s first school sports day.

By Steve Canavan
Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 2:51 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 3:12 pm

It wasn’t a huge day for her – she wasn’t bothered about it. But it was for me, as it meant there was a dad’s race and a chance to extend my 100% unbeaten record to two wins from two, after I stormed – as you must surely have read about in the international press – to a blistering victory at the dad’s race I entered five years ago when attending my nephew’s sports day (after that race, one awestruck teacher approached and asked if I used to be a professional athlete).

The downside of sports day, though, was that I first had to sit through two hours of the kids stuff.

This involved watching my daughter lose quite badly at a variety of different events, such as hurling beanbags through a coloured hoop (Mary’s aim was so poor her beanbag flew off at a 45 degree angle and almost decapitated a year 6 pupil doing the high jump) and the egg and spoon race. Actually, it was a potato and spoon race – which I can’t help but feel isn’t as dangerously thrilling as the yolk-splattered original, although on the upside, displaying a thrifty approach of which my late father would approve, I scooped up several potatoes from the playing field afterwards and used them to cook a family dinner, a bonus in this difficult time of rising living costs. (Granted, quite a few of the spuds were bruised and dented from where they’d been dropped by a group of five-year-olds with a distinct lack of hand-to-eye coordination trying to run too fast, but they tasted okay nonetheless).

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The final event was a race in which Mary was up against the other reception kids. She’d been training for this in our garden the night before and was confident of victory. I tried to temper these expectations as I’d witnessed her training and can honestly say I’ve not seen someone move so slowly since my grandma had to get out of her wheelchair to climb three steps to the ladies toilets at a restaurant on her 102nd birthday.

“Remember, it’s not about the winning, it’s the taking part,” I dutifully told Mary.

‘Yeah,’ said Mary, wiping her nose on her sleeve (every t-shirt in her wardrobe has a snot stain on it), ‘but I’m super-fast so I’m bound to win.’

As it turned out, Mary surprised me by running at a relatively decent speed but then, moments before the finishing line, stopped and looked around, allowing nine or 10 others to dash past her, and then, only when she was completely certain of finishing last, did she cross the line.

I could’ve clapped and shouted, “well done Mary”, but thought this wouldn’t be sending the right message, so instead bellowed, “that was absolutely rubbish – what the hell did you stop for?”

She started crying at this. I’m not sure why.

But it didn’t matter, for, with the children’s events done, came the moment I’d been waiting for.

‘Attention,’ the headteacher Miss Bushmaster announced over the PA, which had all morning been blasting out Chariots of Fire and the theme tune to Rocky (I couldn’t help but think this was a little over-the-top as the soundtrack for a bunch of primary school children trying to walk across a bench without falling off). ‘It’s now time for the dad’s race. Would any dads like to take part?’

It was crucial not to look too keen so I waited until several other blokes had come forward before saying in a loud voice so others around would hear, “oh I suppose I’ll give it a go” - and then ambled casually to the start line in what I hoped seemed like a reluctant and not-bothered fashion.

Inside I was brimming with confidence because I’d prepared well. Only that morning I’d done three press-ups, followed by a sit-up. I’d intended to do three sit-ups as well, but was knackered after one so stopped.

My plan was to set off full-tilt and romp to victory by about 75 metres or so – not bad going in a 100m race –then be swamped by a group of swooning mothers who’d ask how I developed such a stunning sprinting technique and make admiring comments about the definition of my calf muscles.

I took a position on the outside – I’d seen Ben Johnson do this at the 1988 Olympics and he won in world record time (Ok, so it turned out the shed-load of illegal substances he quaffed might have played a part too but let’s not dwell on that).

I glanced at the guy next to me. He was in his 50s and had a bandage on his knee. This was going to be a cakewalk.

‘OK,’ said Miss Bushmaster. ‘Ready, steady…’ I tensed, ready to dash. ‘Go’.

I shot off, or at least I did for two strides before somehow contriving to slip on the slightly damp grass and nosedive into the ground in the manner of a Second World war Japanese kamikaze pilot.

By the time I’d picked myself up and wiped the blood from my bent nose, the rest of the field were out of sight.

I gamely tried to catch up but trailed in last by some distance and, worse still, a ripple of sympathetic applause rang out from the large crowd as I crossed the line.

The one good thing was my demise made my daughter Mary feel better. ‘Daddy,’ she said with a big smile on her face, ‘you were even worse than me.’