Masters of their art: Tom Hunt with Mags Glavey and Pauline Moran representing Mayo AC on the Irish team in the 31st Annual British and Irish Masters International Cross Country in Singleton Park, Swansea, in 2018.

Masters, but not of their own destiny

Motivation or, more importantly, the lack of it is the biggest challenge facing many members of the Mayo AC masters.

Masters range from over 35 right up to 70 and beyond, and Mayo are ranked up there among very best when it comes to bringing home national and international honours to their club and county. Their record of achievement speaks for itself.

However, the current pandemic restrictions has hit them hard and while winning individual and team events is all well and good, the feeling of isolation and lack of connectivity within this amazing group is what some are finding really difficult to cope with.

Mayo AC PRO Tom Hunt, who is also a very active master at the age of 73, feels he and many of his fellow masters are struggling under the current restrictions, which confines them to a radius of 5k.

“You can only look at the same pothole so many times,” he says jokingly, but behind the laughter you sense the seriousness of his concerns for his own well-being and that of his fellow athletes, who are at their wits' end to keep their mental and physical health intact in these testing times.

“My golfing neighbour is extremely bemused by the restrictions imposed on us. It should also be worth noting that Johnny Sexton didn’t become concussed due to social distancing,” he said, slightly bemused at how some more physical and dare we say more dangerous sports are treated in comparison to athletics, which has little if any contact at all.

Tom lives in what he calls the 'Bermuda Triangle' of Carracastle, which is between the intersection of Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon.

“Look, I know I can vary my run, which I do at least three times a week, but it is the isolation from each other which gets to me, and I’m getting the same sense of isolation from many of our members.

“Not having something to aim at is hard to adjust to as there have been great changes in training and gathering.

“We used to aim for two sessions of training on track in Castlebar and Claremorris with 14 people and the coach. Now you can only train with one other person, and that is not always feasible.”

Mayo AC consists of 90% adults, with the masters (over 35s) making up a large part of that.

“As you get older it doesn’t not get any easier and for me it is important for my own mental health to get out there two or three times a week just to keep sane,” he said.

Tom is not too concerned about the lack of competition, which formed such a part of the masters experience.

“It is about motivation more than anything else,” he explained. “It is not just about running and competing. It is as much about the social side, meeting up with your friends, having a coffee and a chat. What you could call normal things, yet we know we these are not normal times.

“But it is important for the mental and physical health of our group that we get back to Level 3 and 2 when we can resume group training in groups and gather to meet and chat.”

He added: “A lot of the clubs feel the same. There are 14 clubs in Mayo and we are the only one that is mostly an adult club, but it is clear that the kids too are affected by the lockdowns as their training is being affected baldy and they certainly need the competitions to keep their edge.”

There is also the financial side of things and Tom has genuine fears that club membership will drop dramatically as people will not pay fees if they don’t see some slack coming at the end of that track.

“Fees are due now for 2021 membershipp renewals and many will not renew their membership if they can’t see some light at the end of the tunnel.

“We pay fees to Athletics Ireland they take 40% and we retain the rest. to cover our outlays. This time of the year would normally be the 5k summer series, which are a major fundraiser for us for trying to keep things going,” he said.

The sooner the 5k radius is lifted and athletes of all ages are allowed more contact with their peers, the better it will be in the long term for the mental and physical health of those who feel more confined and more isolated as the days roll by.