(Originally published on 11 March 2015)
I never knew Andy Naylor. I hadn’t even heard of him before he died.
However, over the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with his family and friends to find out what drove Race Director Steven Carr and the Sai Kung running community to start a race in his honour. I have yet to hear a bad word about Andy, and it’s become unequivocally clear that Hong Kong was deprived of a great man, father, police officer and athlete, with his untimely death at the New York City Ironman in August 2012 at the age of 43.
No one can question Andy’s athletic prowess, with some eye-watering road race results including 2:32:39 and 74th place at the London Marathon in 2009, and 1:12:14 at the UNICEF Half in 2008. As a member of the go-getter RMRH club, he was a strong cyclist, and also handy in a kayak or in the pool.
To a certain extent, Andy was a “natural”. As his wife Lynn remarked, “Andy never knew he was a good runner until he started winning the Police races and that was with no specific training initially."
Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work - or so the old saying goes. Andy had hard work in spades, as well as a formidable competitive streak, a seemingly boundless capacity for enduring pain, and a commitment to giving his best in everything he did. It’s no wonder he was such a successful and admired athlete.
However, it wasn't just about winning for Andy. In fact, it came a distant second to sportsmanship. Lynn remembers one 15km race where one of Andy's main rivals was flagging near the end. Despite being in third place, Andy slowed and shouted out "come on we're going to finish this" and ended up fourth, just behind the other runner. No winnings, no medal, no podium finish for Andy, but he was happy that he had helped a fellow competitor.
However, Andy was much more than just a runner. As good friend Michael Ormiston reminisced, “he was passionate about running but also passionate about people”. He would get along with everyone and gave his time freely, even when that time was already short. "He helped anyone wherever he could, even if he wasn’t asked to help," remembers Lynn, "if he thought he could, he just would."
In many ways, that was how the Andy Naylor Track Session started, or ANTS, as the weekly Tuesday night interval session at the Sai Kung and Tseung Kwan O sports grounds is now affectionately called. Hong Kong trail stalwart Keith Noyes was also involved in the early days, but it really grew with Andy’s enthusiasm.
Andy loved the fact that runners of all levels started coming, and helped the plodders as much as the greyhounds, with encouragement and personalised training programmes. As Keith recalled, "This was a great gesture given that he was always at the sharp end of the lead pack ... it mattered to him that other runners could also get a great work out".
It wasn't just runners of all abilities but also all languages, as Andy was that rare breed of expat who spoke fluent Cantonese. Local runner Calvin Chan, now 22 years old, was a regular in those early ANTS days. Andy took him under his wing and the relationship blossomed - "he's like a father, and I'm like a son".
On race day at Hard As Nayls, Calvin will be running the 17km Half Course and is still working towards a sub-33 over 10km to "try to finish Andy's dream". These days, Calvin is just one of over 100 ANTS regulars that have been inspired by Andy, and now mentored by Rachel Sproston, to keep working towards their running goals.
Andy's community involvement didn't stop there, coaching the Sai Kung Stingrays boys minis team to success, even though his kids - all girls - were not in the team. For the best part of a decade, he was also Race Director for the Matilda Hospital Sedan Chair Race, regularly commenting that "it was the toughest race, harder than Trailwalker!" Never one to wimp out, he discharged his duties every year without fail, even with a misdiagnosed broken neck in 2010.
However, above all, Andy was a dedicated and loving family man to wife Lynn and his three daughters, Katelyn, Tara and Sasha. He treasured their annual family holidays and loved nothing more than spending time with "his girls". It is in this spirit of family (as well as community involvement and sporting competition) that next month's Hard As Nayls race takes place, including a guest team appearance by Lynn and youngest daughter Sasha in the Family run. It's a big ask, but we're sure that Race Director Steven Carr will do Andy proud.
Lynn and her younger daughter Sasha have made the trip to Hong Kong to participate in the Family Run summed it up nicely: "The Hard as Nayls race is a very fitting way to remember him. I don't think Andy would have hoped for more. To be honoured in a race is brilliant but for it to be on the trails he loved, ran on regularly and hiked with his family is just perfect. The different options and a kids option is in keeping with his attitude to running. He loved running and am sure he would love to think that because of him, people are out there doing it. I think he will be smiling on April 19th."
The inaugural Hard As Nayls event for 2015 kicks off on April 19, and will include a 45km Trail and Road Marathon, 17km Half Course and 8km Family Run. It is now open for registration, but there are only 550 slots available given Country Park restrictions, and the Family Run is almost full, so don't dilly dally! From a trail runner's point of view, it looks a stonking course, with a great mix of up and down trail, zippy pavement, coastal paths and a small beach section.
Money raised will go back into the local community including tragedy-affected families and underprivileged young runners. More information and registration is available at www.hardasnayls.org. I hope to see you there.
Many thanks to Lynn Naylor, Michael Ormiston and Keith Noyes for their help, and anyone wanting to help the Naylor family can make a donation to HSBC 817 749294 838 / HKTRL Ltd.
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