Neil Featherby: We'll always remember dear George at the FOP

George Arthur Wilkinson Bhaskar Kumar

George Arthur Wilkinson with friend and surgeon Bhaskar Kumar at the FOP. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Sadly, I start my column on a rather unhappy note this week albeit in many ways one which has also been somewhat inspirational too. 

For those who have come along to my FOP group sessions during the last four or five years, they will invariably know of George although I think his real name is Arthur. 

George lived directly next door to the park where we do most of our training and had lived in the village of Felthorpe longer than any other resident. 

He would always walk a lap of the field albeit in the opposite direction to that of the way the group would be running. Needless to say, he would always stop for a chat too despite more often than not whilst everyone was on their hands and knees trying to recover from a rep. 

Six years ago, I asked him to present the prizes after our boxing day run which he would always come out to support for which I could see at the time that this lovely elderly gentleman genuinely felt quite humbled by it all.   

George Arthur Wilkinson

George Arthur Wilkinson, centre, as guest of honour with the team winners at the Boxing Day Run prize giving in 2015 - Credit: Neil Featherby

However, just after that he had to go into hospital for major surgery where ironically his surgeon Bhaskar Kumar who is also an excellent runner, later joined our group. 

Now I did write about this in June of 2020, but my most stand out moment by a long way of any FOP session was the night when a fully focused Bhaskar ran past an equally determined George who also had his head down only for me to later say to Bhaskar, ‘I think you may know that man’. 

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What took place immediately after that still causes my eyes to well up when I think about it. Both Bhaskar and George were hugging each other with tears rolling down George’s face as he repeatedly kept saying, “this man saved my life”. 

During the last month or two it became quite clear when speaking to George that he had become unwell again and it was only grit and willpower which was getting him round his lap of the park.  

In fact, just three weeks ago I saw him turn back and head home before completing his lap and then a fortnight ago, I asked his neighbour and good friend who always walked round with him if he was okay only for her to say he had taken a fall for which he was then taken into care. 

On Monday morning of this week, George passed away. As it happens, it was Bhaskar who informed me what with him regularly keeping tabs on his former patient and I think it is fair to say a special friend too. 

George really was a lovely man and will be sadly missed by a lot of people, particularly the FOP Running group for which we will all be doing a lap of the park at our next session in the opposite direction to honour and remember our dear friend George Arthur Wilkinson. 

I must also mention this week, the amazing achievement of American athlete and former Olympic Marathon (2008) silver medallist Shalane Flanagan now 40 years of age who recently completed all of the six major marathons in as many weeks (42 days). 

This is also on the back of having had two knee operations and with two of the marathons Chicago and Boston being on consecutive days. 

Her finishing times for all six races were phenomenal with ironically her last marathon in New York last Sunday being the quickest of them all. 

All in all, the six-race sequence went like this – Berlin 2:38:32 secs, London 2:35:04, Chicago 2:46:39, Boston 2:40:34, Tokyo (Virtual) 2:35:14 and New York 2:33:32. 

One other athlete who I must also mention this week is Norwich Road Runners Amy Beck (coached by Paul Evans) who ran for the British Police in the Police European Championships in Aarhus Denmark last weekend where she finished in a superb 16th place.

Amy Gill Police XC Championships

Amy Beck running strongly in last weekend's Police European XC Championships - Credit: Stephen Gill

With two other high scoring team mates Natalie Burns 12th and Nia Noakes 15th, the British Team also finished third in the bronze medal position. 

Amy Beck XC Police Team

Amy Beck amongst the medals with the GB Police team - Credit: Stephen Gill

To finish off, I am sending out another cry for help this week. It seems apparent that Norfolk are still in desperate need for endurance officials. 

If it wasn’t for Clive Poyner, Peter Mahoney and Rob Machin, then there really would be no county cross country championships in January. 

I am sure there are several people out there who would be more than happy to help but are perhaps just unaware of the needs required. Therefore, for those who might like to come forward, please do make contact with Clive Poyner at Clive.athleticsnorfolk@gmail.com 

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