In my column last week, I mentioned that I received an email from a former Norfolk track and Eastern Counties Cross Country Champion from over 60 years ago.
I also suggested that this person has led such a remarkable life that he deserved to be in a feature rather than just a Neil Featherby column.
Well, I still think this but, in the meantime, and having been asked by a number of people as to who he is, I will do my best to cram as much in as I possibly can whilst hopefully still doing him justice.
So where do I start?
Well firstly, Andrew Coe is well known for the family photographic company which for many years resided in London Street in Norwich. Apparently, the oldest photographic business of its kind in the world having started in 1853.
However, his story goes back 82 years when being born in London in 1941 before being adopted by the Coe family here in Norfolk when just three years of age.
His true father was a wireless operator during World War Two and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal but this and his adoption are all part of a much bigger story.
Whilst he grew up in Norfolk, he also went to school in Uppingham in Rutland where he boarded.
Despite the school having some excellent sporting teams, unfortunately for Andrew, running and athletics was not deemed as a priority.
School rules also dictated that you could only compete for the school, which meant playing for, or in Andrew’s case running for a club outside of the school, was forbidden.
Not to be outdone though, he would sneak out of school at weekends thanks to his mum or the local milkman who would get him to a race and then back to school in time for tea before anyone noticed.
This included his win when becoming the Norfolk County Junior mile champion in 1959 at Harleston.
All of this was fine until a race which he performed well in was featured in the local Rutland newspaper which his headmaster saw and rather than being pleased at his pupil’s success, it led to him being threatened with expulsion and warned not to do it again.
After leaving school, he attended the Borough Road College where his athletics career extended to another level.
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Training with the likes of the great Gordon Pirie also led to Andrew being invited out to Australia to train with the legendary Australian coach Percy Cerutty at his famous training ground in Portsea.
Although Andrew did not go out to Australia and Portsea at the time, he did many years later to see what is still today renowned for the sand dunes where Herb Elliott, the 1960 Olympic 1,500 metres gold medallist and former world record holder for both the 1,500 metres and mile, trained under the watchful eye of Cerutty.
Sadly, for Andrew though, his athletics career was curtailed aged just 26 due to an achilles tendon injury which had to be operated on.
The following years were of course then spent working in and owning the family business, but his love for athletics never diminished and he has been to every Olympic Games since 1988.
He was also the official British Team photographer at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games held in Barcelona and Atlanta which meant staying with the athletes at the Olympic village.
When I mentioned Emil Zatopek to him, the only man to win the 5,000 and 10,000 metres plus the marathon in an Olympic Games (1952), he quickly replied with a “yes I knew Emil” going on to tell me about the times he spent in the great man’s company. The first time being when meeting him at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
In fact, he absolutely blew my mind when naming so many superstars of the sport going back many years which he got to know well.
I must just throw in another matter of fact comment too when telling me about the time he lunched with Sebastian Coe at the House of Commons.
Anyway, and as said at the start of this column, to do Andrew real justice, more newspaper space would be required so moving on to the present day and after having taken up running again just to get fit aged 78 (another story in itself), back in January of this year, he won a bronze medal for 800 metres at the British Masters Championships in the 80 to 84 age category. This of course being 55 years since his last athletics competition.
Whilst he gives a lot of praise to Norwich Social Joggers and his S&C coach Paul Suggitt from Wymondham, his athletics coach is the 2022 Commonwealth Games 10,000 metre gold medallist and multi-British record holder Eilish McColgan who was very quick to publish on her social media channels how proud she was of Andrew whilst also saying there is more to come yet.
Quite rightly, Andrew is also proud of his achievement. He said: “Just because you are in your 80s, it does not mean you have to accept you are getting old. Whereas a lot of the guys in my age group who have been competing for years are finding that they aren’t getting any faster, I am excited by trying to see just how much quicker I can get while improving on my race times.”
Looking ahead to the future, all I can say having now had several conversations with him is that his approach to his running is also the same with his business when telling me that he has no intention of retiring particularly having taken over 10,000 portrait appointments for 100 portrait studios across the UK this year.
When it comes to his running though, he is also looking forward to the British Indoor Championships in February and European Championships in Torun, Poland in March.
To finish off my column this week, I also discovered during one of my chats with this amazing man that he was also a speedway rider.
“Was your dad Clive Featherby the speedway rider?” he asked me. When I replied yes, he responded with “he was crazy” leaving me for once struggling for an answer other than laughing out loud.
Keep on running and I hope my column this week may have just inspired some of you to keep believing that whatever your age you can still be ambitious and set yourself goals and targets.