PAUL NEWELL: I was the fastest kid on two legs, but I swam like a concrete brick

In my prime, I could easily outpace one of these creatures. Probably... (Wiki Commons: labeled for reuse)

I believe that I reached my sporting peak between the ages of ten and twelve whilst at Northern Parade Middle School.

At the time I was built like a racing snake and I used that to full advantage.

I discovered an aptitude for athletics and playing football (much to my dad’s delight). Every year, at school, each child had to participate in the 3As sports challenge.

We had to complete a few challenges such as shuttle runs or skipping around the school perimeter at speed, and points were awarded depending on your score. At the end the scores were totted up and you were awarded a badge and certificate commensurate with your achievement.

In the first year I was awarded a four star badge, but in year two I became the first and only person to achieve a five star badge which was the highest. In the third year I was awarded a three star badge as the scoring was tougher.

Every year the school would decamp to the Mountbatten Centre sports track for the annual sports day. All of the children were members of one of the four houses, Widley, Wallington, Purbrook and Southwick, named after the forts on the hill. I was in Widley house.

I loved sports day as I was the fastest runner in the school and comfortably won the flat race every year.

I remember the relay race one year, and I was running the anchor leg. We were behind by quite a way when the baton was given to me and I remember our third leg runner saying to me “That’s it we’ve won”. I belted down the home straight past the bemused Wallington runner to take the glory. As a bonus it ensured Widley won sports day, so I was popular for a while. Sports day was in the afternoon, so mum and nan came to watch me run. I still have all the certificates. I would, however, get my comeuppance in senior school when I discovered that I was no longer the quickest kid on two legs!

For some reason, I was encouraged to practice high jump at lunchtime on a Thursday. I was a bit aggrieved by this as I wasn’t overly keen, and it was at lunchtime, however, I did learn the various techniques of flinging myself over a horizontal bar! Whilst attempting a scissor kick, I miscalculated and launched the pole into the air, bruising my foot in the process. I therefore switched to the Fosbury flop which was alright as long as I didn’t overshoot the mat.

During year three, we were picked up by bus to be taken to Victoria Park swimming baths.

I hated swimming; I still do. I remember my teacher being surprised that I wasn’t a good swimmer given that I was good at other sports. I was in the bottom group called ‘bricks’. The clue is in the title. I aspired to be a ‘better brick’ but to no avail. I panic when I am out of my depth or when water goes over my head so I was useless.

Also that year, a few of us were selected to compete in an inter-schools ‘It’s a Knockout’ tournament. I remember standing behind a wall with a net whilst the rest of the team jumped on a trampoline and threw footballs over the wall for me to catch.

It was great fun and I ended up catching some of the opposing team’s footballs as well.

The only event I did not take part in was the swimming event. I can’t think why!

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