Derry City Track Club’s Timothy Shiels grabs ‘second chance’…

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Monthly Feature, courtesy of Chris Caldwell and used with the kind permission of Tyrone Constitution Newspaper:

When I received an email last week to tell me that an Omagh resident had been chosen to represent Ireland in the 800 metres at ‘the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on March 25’ my interest was piqued, but I had no idea just how interesting the subject of the potential story would turn out to be.

Initially I thought I’d be writing a few paragraphs about a guy called Timothy Shiels, who is to travel to Hungary for the World Masters Athletics Championships where he would compete in the 35 to 39 age category.

However, after spending some time chatting to Tim it turned out his story was about so much more than just his running ability – he has gone from being ‘a homeless drug addict to getting married, having a family, running from Derry to Dublin in seven days to raise money for an orphanage, becoming pastor of Omagh Community Church, winning an Irish title and has qualified for the European and the World Championships after taking up competitive running just seven months ago!

Before starting to run for more than just fun, Tim began jogging to lose some weight, but he was soon doing a little more than just keeping fit.  “I did some silly things. Like a couple of years ago I ran from Derry to Dublin!” he announced before explaining: “I have a friend who lives in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Him and his wife moved out there to set up an orphanage (Zimbabwe Orphan Care, Jabulani Children’s Home).  For them it’s more than an orphanage it’s their home and they have been granted so much favour by the local government that every child that comes into their care they can adopt them. Tim added, “So they have made this life-time commitment to every child that comes across their path so I thought I have to do something outrageous for them to raise their profile and raise a whole load of money for them.  “I love running and I like to talk so I decided to go for a run and talk to some people to raise some money for them. We did it over seven days – it averaged over a marathon a day.  It was class! I met loads of people and raised a fair few thousand for the orphanage.”

Then, seven months ago, Tim started running competitively and after a disappointing outing at the outdoor Irish Championships he decided to seek the help of a coach and success soon followed.  “Last year I went to the Irish Championships in August down in Tullamore,” he explained. “It was just after we had been in a car crash and I had an injury to my left leg and I didn’t do as well as I thought I might have.  I walked away from that thinking I could do a lot better than that, so I looked for a coach.  “I remembered there was a guy in Derry called Malcolm McCausland, who is probably the best middle distance coach in Northern Ireland, so I asked him to coach me and he said yes.  I’d been training with him for four months when I became national indoor champion on 25th January 2014. It was my first ever attempt at running on an indoor track and my first ever attempt at the national championships indoor and now I’m national champion and I’m going to the World Championships – it’s ridiculous! The second time I’ll run on an indoor track will be at the World Championships – it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s class!”

Initially, Tim didn’t think he’d be going to the World Championships, thinking he’d be travelling to Turkey in August for the Europeans, but he is thrilled to have been given this additional opportunity – one which he is keen to take.  “When you become national champion it opens the door for you to compete in different things,” he beamed. “Originally I had thought I was going to go to the European Championships and then my coach said ‘the World Championships are yours lad’. This wasn’t part of my plan.  My plan was to go and potentially win the gold medal at the European Championships, but now this has landed on my lap, it’s a great opportunity.  If nothing else, it will be a great training ground and a great introduction to competition at the elite level for the Europeans.”

“It’s hard to say how I’ll get on.  I had said that to make the final would be outstanding and to win a medal would be extraordinary and I believe in the extraordinary so anything is possible. If I make the final anything is possible. If I make the final I’ll be a hard man to beat, that’s what I’m telling myself.  Two years ago it was won in a time that’s achievable for me, so we’ll see. You never know what happens on the day.  I talk a good race but you have to run a good race! There are a number of competitors running quickly at the minute but these are times they have run in the past and our race is in the future and so we’ll have to see who produces the goods on the day. I’m not really concerned about what anyone else is doing, all I’m concerned about is doing my best on the day and hopefully my best will be good enough.”

The 38-year-old father-of-five, who moved to Omagh in October, has certainly had a colourful life so far and he is keen to make the most of his ‘second chance’ after coming off the rails when he was younger.  “I was told when I was younger that I had great potential, but I made a series of choices that made it impossible for me to realise that potential,” he explained. “I do certainly feel that this is my second chance and a fantastic opportunity to realise that potential. When I was a kid I ran competitively, but long story short, I got mixed up in drugs, ended up homeless and was in an awful mess.”

After meeting Sister Consilio Fitzgerald (well known for her drug addiction work) in Dublin, Tim has transformed himself from that ‘awful mess’ into a loving father, dedicated pastor and an elite level athlete.  “I met a nun, did a stint in rehab and got myself back together,” Tim said was the short story of his renaissance.  I met this lady called Sister Consilio in Dublin and she got me into rehab. It was originally a 13-week programme at a place called Cuan Mhuire, Athy, Co Kildare, and I ended up staying there for 18 months because she offered me a job at the end of the 13 weeks.”

After that he moved into a halfway house in Dublin, he met his wife and they started their family before moving to Derry where his spiritual development continued through the Cornerstone City Church.  “That’s really where my life took off,” he explained. “When you are surrounded by people who inspire you to be the best that you can be, who will love you no matter what mistakes you have made in the past, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, they let you make mistakes, it’s a great breading ground for growth. We grew a lot in our time with Cornerstone. The guys loved us, blessed us, encouraged us and I would say empowered us.”

From there, Tim and his family moved to Omagh where they became involved with the Community Church and its growing congregation, based at the YMCA building in Campsie Crescent.  “My wife and I, about 18 months to two years ago, thought we’d come and start a church in Omagh,” he added. “We felt that was something we were being led to do. We had a massive sense of burden about Omagh – Omagh kept us awake at night. We dreamt about it. We fell in love with Omagh. We have some friends up here and we felt why don’t we just come and start a church!

“So, we sold our house and we moved to Omagh and we came here in October with the idea of starting a church. When we got here we met the people who are in Omagh Community Church and they invited us to take their church over and we said yes.  It’s quite extraordinary and it makes no sense. We acted in faith, we came to start a church and God gave us one.”  Tim’s faith is obviously a major part of his life, and he believes that faith helps him on the track as well. “My faith gives me great strength,” he observed. “That’s why I say I believe in the extraordinary – I am a former homeless drug addict who’s now going to run in the World Championships!

“Faith is a wonderful thing. Faith inspires hope in people and I’ve got great hope. Look at what I’ve come through. My best days are ahead of me and I fully believe that God isn’t finished with me,” he concluded.

Note from NiRunning:  Once again, we would like to thank Chris Caldwell and the Tyrone Constitution Newspaper for this excellent article.  We would also like to thank Athletics Ireland for the photograph and wish Tim all the very best for his upcoming races/events.