A short note from the 30th Anniversary Ball organisers Paddy and Shona along with a gallery of photos is available here: Sportsworld 30th Anniversary 

Celebrating 30 Years ~ special thanks to the author Conor Kenny

On Saturday night, September 21st, some 150 Sportsworld members, family and friends gathered to celebrate 30 years a growing.

A balmy Indian evening rounded off the most perfect summer in years. It was a fitting end to a new beginning.

Big smiles in tuxedos greeted beautiful women in ball gowns. One by one, the night air was filled with laughter, friendship and fun. It was unusual to see runners at their best when we are used to each other at our worst. Men were dapper and handsome in traditional black and white. But, our girls stole the show looking beautiful, fit and fabulous. If ever there was an advert for health and fitness, the slow parade into the ball room proved the point.

Almost accidentally, ‘trees’ became the theme of the night and, as it happened, an appropriate metaphor for growth, roots and legacy.

But, you see, these nights don’t just happen. Behind every successful event that ‘looks’ seamless, there’s a few quiet people who do Trojan work. The Ring Master was Shona Keane who sparkled her way through the night. Since March, she quietly kept her eye on the finish line and could not be distracted. Paddy Lynch was the visionary and recruited his team perfectly. Just like our first ever Bushy Park Meet & Train race, Paddy has an outstanding record of delivering his dreams. This was another.

Michael Cunningham is our very own ‘Quiet Man’ but don’t let that fool you. He’s built of everlasting steel and has a work ethic to prove it. It’s no coincidence that Michael recently took home a National Half Marathon Silver Medal. Tirelessly, behind the scenes, Michael just drove on until the night was ready.

We went to our tables and the red and white balloons bobbed happily along with ourselves. Just like the mood on a training Tuesday, the mood was good.

On a big screen some images started to play. Before long we were mesmerized by the framed photos hanging on a tree. “Oh look there’s …..” It was clever, compelling and the ‘tree’ was holding court once more.
On our tables, a branded disk. I couldn’t help thinking how symbolic it was of today, the future and how far we’d come from our leafy first steps. All of this would have done an international conference proud but, on this occasion, it was the long hours, ingenuity and dedication of Gareth Murran. That guided us through a time tunnel of memories.

With so many awards, time came to acknowledge the very special people who have been instrumental in building our club, our values, our brand and our purpose. The tree was to pop up again and again.

Yours truly had the honour of opening the awards and giving a little insight into how we gain much more from a club than the ability to run faster.

Mick Dowling followed and reminded us of very humble beginnings, the importance of our clubs culture and the bag full of medals too.

Us grey members were very eager to look into, and preserve the future. Who better to represent that other than Shona Keane? It was no surprise that she sparkled again and it was very much a case of old wisdom being reborn with a new generation.

It was time to present the awards.

They ran up and walked back, each proud and almost all surprised. The awards were a superb mix of achievement and athleticism and the constant theme of selfless endeavour and a commitment to our values reminded me of Warren Buffett’s quote;

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago”.

The supporting act to the main event was the acknowledgement of our best athletes over the last year. To mere mortals (like me) their prowess continues to astound. Paul Duffy’s unbelievable 2:29 marathon, Caitriona Higgins’s rise from runner to serious racer. Orla’s Iron Man, Ann Higgins’s Half Marathon PB, the list went on.

If you are ever asked to make the keynote speech, there are a few little benefits to soothe the butterflies. Mine was to sit beside Emily who exudes the wonder of youth and life. It was almost time for the spotlight to shine brightly on her.

In 2000, I was a 3 year veteran of Sportsworld. A girl joined our ranks and wore big baggy football shorts. Like me, she wasn’t in peak condition. An immediate bond formed 13 years ago but sadly, our running paths did not run parallel. Sandra Gowran epitomizes everything that is good about Sportsworld and what makes us tick. From baggy shorts to Bristol (and an Irish singlet) it was absolutely fitting Sandra introduced Emily for her ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ as Sandra reeled off the medals, marathons and high achievement, Emily groaned with constant “Oh No, No …. “ You see, real achievers are often humble and avoid bright lights. Not tonight.

The tree was making another comeback. As Sandra pointed out, it was a fitting metaphor for growth, roots and branches. It was also where our club began.

For the older generation, ‘the tree’ is symbolic in many ways. It captures the soul of Sportsworld. To mark the occasion, Ciara Foster, artist, captured the tree. It is a beautiful painting that will evoke so much in the Dowling’s household in years to come.

With the formal presentations over, it was time to relax. Our very own (and superb) Paparazzi captured the glitz, the glamour and the fun. Eoin and Anna should take a bow.

The music started and Ray Carpenter made an entrance to the dance floor that would have trumped James Bond. Beautiful women clamored to accompany his every move…. at least that’s what Ray told me later!
Ellen Lavin took to the floor and a posse quickly followed.
Val Lacey, Queen of the dance floor, was rousing the resting troops. The promise of a fluorescent stick “if you dance” seemed to inspire a generation.

Friends chatted and new friendships formed. Slowly, the night wound down until little groups quietly left just as they’d come.

When it was all over, I reflected on one particular line. It was a line from Paddy Lynch. Just before the Ball began he told us that “he’d seen the future of the club. He knew it was in safe hands”

Isn’t that what leaders do?
Isn’t that why they see what the rest of us don’t see?
Isn’t that the role of a leader?

His prophetic words brought me back to Ronald Regan’s famous line. It’s not a bad compass for the future. Here’s to the next 30 years….and beyond.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same”.