Ballymena Runners celebrate their 20th anniversary:

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20 years and stronger than ever:  Ballymena Runners

Recently, Ballymena Runners celebrated their 20th anniversary with a function in the towns Adair Arms Hotel.  Over 130 people attended, with past and present members, friends and families, club sponsors, special guests and Ballymena Mayor, Alderman PJ McAvoy all keen to celebrate the popular club’s achievements.

Compere for the evening Peter Fleming got the proceedings under way by welcoming all the guests.  He then invited former Club Chairman Dr PJ Fox to open the speeches, Dr Fox outlined how the club was formed in the early nineties and remarking on the impressive expansion of the club to its present day.

Club lifetime members, Stephen Armstrong and Robert McGaughey followed with Stephen highlighting some of the individual performances achieved by club members past and present.  Stephen mentioned notable performances over the years from club runners including Alistair Neeson, Brigid Quinn, Angela Faulkner, Nigel Turner, Eddie King, Ray Curran, Sharon McBurney, Neil Douglas and Iain Taggart to name a few.  He went on to congratulate all those from the club that have earned International selection including; Ray Curran, Eddie King, Alex Brennan, Mark Alexander, Jonny Steede, Jonny McCloy, Jason Wilson, Noel Connor, Sharon McBurney, Mabel McFall, Neil Douglas and Cahal McAuley.

Stephen went on to give a special mention to Roy White who has achieved the remarkable feat of completing over 100 Marathons and an even larger number of Half Marathons, before commending the inspirational Darrell Erwin on his strength and determination, not only to return to fitness after a tragic accident, but to become an accomplished and successful wheelchair athlete.  Darrell has won Belfast Marathon a staggering five times, as well as the Longford Marathon, this tribute received a worthy standing ovation from all guests.

Robert McGaughey took to the stage next, highlighting the club and team achievements over the years.  Robert mentioned the success of the’ Race Over The Glens’ and also the ‘Glenariff Mountain Race’ and the club’s ‘5 Mile Road Race’ which was resurrected this year with an exciting new route around Ballymena Town Centre.  He went on to talk about the exciting weekly ECOS parkrun initiative, before paying tribute to the winning team performances at the Belfast Marathon Relay, McConnell Shield Cross Country, NI Junior Cross Country and numerous wins at the East Antrim Challenge amongst others.

After the meal, current Club Chairman Robin Alexander addressed the room.  He remarked on the vast changes and growth of the club in the last year and how it has progressed.  He commented on the new initiatives within the club, such as the beginners groups that were introduced in 2012.  This group has been largely responsible for increasing the club membership.

Robin also commented on the fact that the club is one for all abilities and standards and welcomes everyone interested in joining.  He also highlighted the large number of female runners there now are in the club with the male/female split now almost 50/50.

The final speech of the evening was from Club Secretary Stephen Brown.  Once again Stephen reiterated Robin’s comments on how the club has progressed and expanded especially over the last year.  He then thanked those in the committee and those club members for their assistance in achieving this goal.  Stephen went on to say that the club wouldn’t be ‘resting on their laurels’ and there were more exciting initiatives to come in the future.

Ballymena Mayor Alderman PJ McAvoy also spoke on the night and praised the club for its efforts in promoting sport within the borough and was also happy that the Council was involved in supporting the ECOS parkrun.  Club friend and Athletics aficionado, Dave McKibben congratulated the club on reaching it’s milestone.  Both Tommy and Phyllis Walsh were also notable guests on the night.

A brief history; Ballymena Runners:

In early September 1991 a group of like-minded people who had been running together in a social group, gathered together in Ballymena with the aim of creating an official running club in the town.  They went on to set up a committee under the leadership of Dr PJ Fox, forming a new club known as Ballymena Runners AC.

A week later on the 16th September 1991 that same group left their adopted base, the Seven Towers Leisure Centre, on their first ever training run.  On that bright September night no one would have imagined how many lives would be changed, how many friendships would be formed, how many miles would be clocked, how many races would be completed and how many fantastic individual and club performances would be witnessed over the forthcoming years.

In 1993, with the club now thriving, they hosted their first ever event, ‘The Ballymena 5’.  The event was so successful that it went on to be a major fixture on the Northern Ireland running calendar.  The club’s success in hosting this race only fuelled their desire to progress, and two years later in 1995 the Ballymena Runners introduced their second event, ‘Race Over The Glens’.  This race, which is now held traditionally on New Years Day, has become a classic – attracting 300 runners each year!   Another year on and the ‘Mid Antrim 7’ was introduced and in 2001 our youngest race, ‘The Glenariff Mountain Race’, was born. The success of the club’s events has been largely down to their commitment and renowned hospitality within the local running fraternity.

Individually, Alistair Neeson emerged as Ballymena Runners’ leading competitor in the early years and set the bench mark for fellow club members.  In the late nineties Ray Curran ‘came home’ to the club and soon after went on to win World Veteran Team Gold in the 10k Cross Country and numerous Northern Ireland Veteran titles in the same discipline.  International track man Eddie King joined the club and increased its profile even further.  Alex Brennan and Sharon McBurney also represented Northern Ireland, and Ballymena, at the World Mountain Championships in Alaska, again a tremendous achievement.

After a 2nd place finish in the Belfast Marathon Relay, Ballymena Runners finally got it’s reward with a great victory in 2000. This was followed by the prestigious McConnell Shield in 2001 and the Junior Cross-Country title in 2002, which for a small provincial club like Ballymena Runners, was a remarkable achievement.   Ballymena Borough Council honoured our club in 2003 when Mary Peters presented members with awards for Coach of the Year, Team of the Year and Disabled Athlete of the Year.

In 2004 the club moved its popular 5 mile road race to the ECOS Park and staged the Northern Ireland 5 Mile Championships.  It would prove to be a wise decision with Ballymena taking the Men’s and Ladies’ team Gold.  More recently, the 5 mile road race course has again changed to include the Town Centre.

Ballymena Runners went on to have runners represent Northern Ireland both at Cross Country and Mountain Running.  This has continued every year with as many as six in any one year going on to reach International standard.  The club’s first twenty years have been remarkable and we are sure the next twenty will be every bit as exciting!