Glasgow’s unsung sporting heroes had no idea of the impact their athletics club would have when it launched as an informal running group in 1990.
A little over two decades on and Ian Mirfin and Janice Eaglesham found themselves in front of millions collecting the Unsung Hero award at the prestigious BBC Sports Personality for their tireless work with disabled athletes at the Red Star Athletics Club.
The pair were named as Scotland’s unsung sporting heroes in November before beating off competition from the other 15 regional winners to win the overall award a month later that was presented to them by Manchester United strike ace Michael Owen.
The foundations of the club began when the husband and wife partnership, who both had previous experience of working with sports people with disabilities, answered a call from Scottish Disability Sport to help coach a visually impaired athlete who wanted to compete in high jump.
Speaking to The Journal, Ian, a staff development officer with South Lanarkshire Council, said: “The club itself happened by accident. Depending on your level of sight loss you might need a guide to help you, and Janice had done some guiding before.
“She agreed to take the athlete on but it soon became clear that he wanted to run rather than jump. Word of mouth spread as we started doing training sessions and very quickly we had quite a number of people coming along.
“At that point we were just running around the Hogganfield Loch in the east end; we had no intention of setting up any sort of club but when the numbers got above twenty we decided that it would be best to formalise it and start seeking out competitive opportunities for people.”
The club moved on to their current home at the Crownpoint athletics track in Dennistoun and was formally founded in 1990. Over the years they have helped over 150 athletes reach their goals, including Karen Lewis, a wheelchair racer who won a world championship gold medal in 1998.
Janice, who recently retired as a sports development officer with Glasgow City Council, added: “What makes me proud is people having had that opportunity to develop in some way, and do with it what they want.
“For some it’s been about getting a medal, but for others it’s been more of a social thing that has made a huge difference in other areas of their life because of the confidence it has given them as well as other life-enhancing skills.
“We have a great group of volunteers who support the club, and they have been amazing.”
Red Star celebrated their 21st birthday last October with a bash that brought together past and present participants to mark the occasion. The party was another one of many high points for the pair from their time running the club.
Ian said: “I have had so many great memories that it is hard to pinpoint just one. I worked with Karen Lewis and she had spent many years in the sport not quite getting the rewards she deserved before she won her gold medal. That was a great moment.
“Also, at our big party at the end of October one of the athletes put together a DVD and dug out some old pictures. Just thinking that we had got to 21 years, and having everyone together past and present, that in itself was a highlight.”
The pair were delighted to receive the BBC award but Ian admitted receiving it and getting up in front of the cameras to speak at the ceremony was a daunting experience.
He said: “We were dreading it. One of our athletes, Jamie Cuthbertson, nominated us and you needed to agree to the nomination before it got put forward. We took some time to think about it before we said yes.”
Ian and Janice won the Scottish Unsung Hero award and travelled down to the UK-wide awards along with a host of other regional winners in their category.
“We went to a briefing session where they said, ‘These are the final four’, to give you a chance to think about what you’re going to say if you win, and to say, ‘There’s a bar beforehand, so don’t overdo it’.
“After that, you don’t know you’ve won until your name comes up on the screen, it was all a bit of a blur really. The exposure for the club and for disability sport has been great. We have had so many people getting in touch and offering good wishes.”
As winners, Ian and Janice have the opportunity to go to next year’s Sports Personality of the Year awards as guests, and safe in the knowledge that they won’t be asked to take to the stage and speak.
“With it being an Olympic and Paralympic year it should be a great experience,” Ian added. “Last year we only had two Cokes and a glass of wine, so this time we can make use of the free bar. Seriously though, it will be nice to go back.”