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79-year-old resident wins bronze in race in Spain in memory of his wife

79-year-old resident wins bronze in race in Spain in memory of his wife

A 79-year-old resident from one of our extra care schemes has won a bronze medal in a race in Spain after rediscovering his love of track walking since his wife who he cared for passed away.

Mick Barker, of Lavender Court in Barnsley, fought off competition from Olympic champions and former world champions to win bronze in the European Masters 10km Road Walk Championships in Alicante, his international debut.

This was not only the first time Mick, who turns 80 in July, represented Great Britain in a race but his win comes nearly 50 years after he last competed. Even more remarkable is the fact that his success comes just months after recovering from hypothermia which nearly killed him. Now he has got his sights on the World Masters Championships in Malaga.

Mick, a former railway worker born and bred in Sheffield, began walking in his teens. His achievements include winning the 12-mile Sheffield Star Walk in 1964 with a time of 98 minutes and 15 seconds – a record that still stands today.

He went on to walk for Sheffield United Harriers but gave it up in 1971 when he moved to Barnsley to open Barker’s Fruit and Vegetable shop in Cudworth with his wife Marlene.

However, race walking was never far from his mind. He even joined a jogging club for patients during a spell in hospital in the 1990s and later joined Barnsley Athletic Club.

After competing in many races, including the London Marathon, he gave it all up to care for Marlene 15 years after she suffered two strokes.

After being in and out of hospital and care homes, Mick took it upon himself to care for Marlene at home so she could be more comfortable. This meant giving up his love of walking.

He said: “I did everything. She couldn’t communicate and was bed-bound for many years. It was very difficult. As her health started worsening, I had no choice but to give up my hobby. I loved track walking but I loved Marlene more. She needed me so I focused my full attention on looking after her.

“A few years after giving up the walking, I was still struggling to keep on top of her care so we moved to Lavender Court. It meant we could stay together in the comfort of our own home but she could receive specialist care as and when she needed it.”

Marlene died in 2015 aged 73 and within weeks, Mick was back out walking.

He said: “When I gave up walking, I could never have dreamed of winning medals at my age but after Marlene died, I didn’t want to fall into the trap of staying in and moaning about aches and pains, I wanted to be fit and healthy.

“So about four or five weeks after she died, I started going for little walks. It gave me an outlet for my grief, a reason to get up and get out. About 18 months ago, I started to dream about doing the times I was doing when I was younger. I pushed myself harder and harder and now I would say I am fitter than some people in their 20s.

“Marlene would be delighted that I have taken it up again. She knew how much I loved it.”

Sue Lewis, Head of Supported Housing at Together Housing, said: “What an incredible achievement by an inspirational man.

“Caring for a loved one is such a lot to cope with but moving to Lavender Court meant that Mick and Marlene were able to stay together and get additional support while maintaining their independence in their own home.

“I’m sure that Marlene would be so proud of Mick for reigniting his passion and now winning medals representing his country abroad.”

Mick’s next step is the British Masters 10km Track Walking Championships in Oxford where he will represent his team, Northern Masters AC. If successful, he will go on to enter the World Masters Championships in Malaga in September.

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