Michael Gray setting the pace in 1960....and 2009

Michael Gray - he led the first of the modern Parish Walks at half distance and he set another record in 2008 when he completed the 85 miles at the age of 73. Make that 74 in 2009! (photo Murray)

Listen to his 1960 preparation and his thoughts for the future.

Michael Gray took part in the Parish Walk of 1960 and had the distinction of leading between Kirk Michael and Ballaugh. He was to retire soon after but he returned the following year and, with a better understanding of what it was going to take to walk the 85 miles, paced himself for a finish, something that he did not do again for 46 years!

The 25 year old was working in the Douglas Corporation Gardens when he entered the 1960 Parish Walk. His working day finished at 5 pm on Friday and he just had time for a quick change before donning his walking gear for the 7 pm start that evening - the long trousers and ammunition boots were not ideal for an 85 mile walking race. He was one of the 35 walkers in the field that included 6 women. At first he walked with one of his friends, Peter Lewthwaite, but he soon moved up through the field. His pace slowed as he developed blisters and after his retirement he was admitted to Ramsey Cottage Hospital because of their condition. He received very little sympathy from the nursing staff for his self inflicted injuries!

Peter Lewthwaite, Michael's very first race walking companion, at a recent party (photo Murray)

He finished the 85 mile course in 1961 in a time of 21:43:50 and his next finish in 2007 was only 8 minutes and 37 seconds slower at the age of 72 (21:52:27). But a lot happened in between.

He made further attempts to finish the Parish Walk in the 60s without success. He was a founder member of Boundary Harriers in 1960 and through the club (which joined Manx AC to form Manx Harriers in 1991) he took up fell running and finished in several of the early Manx Mountain Marathons.

At the finish of the 1976 Manx Mountain Marathon in Bradda Glen, Michael (20) is pictured with his lifelong friend Allan Corlett (25). The man with his hand in the air is the late Johnny Quine one of the first officials in the Parish Walk. (photo the late Bill Lambden)

As a veteran he walked to Peel in the Parish Walks of 1987 and 1988 but it was his walk over the same distance in 2003 that really started the modern involvement for the Gray family.

Two years later his daughter Stephanie was persuaded to have a go by her colleagues at the Department of Local Government and the Environment. She reached Andreas at the first attempt and the following year she completed the course whilst dad walked as far as Lezayre at the age of 71.

Until the early 1990s the over 60s were not even allowed to walk beyond Peel but in 2006 Michael Gray, accompanied all the way by Stephanie, set two records. Firstly he was the oldest ever finisher (something that was not possible to confirm at the time) and secondly he had the biggest gap between finishes - 46 years.

46 years after his previous finish, Michael is pictured with his daughter Stephanie at the finish in 2007 (photo Paul Jackson)

Stephanie and Michael repeated their team effort in 2008 and he can certainly verify that the weather conditions were the worst ever. This is reflected in his slowest time to date of 23:15:15 but far from putting him off it makes him more determined to walk faster in 2009.

Although his participation at an age when he should be putting his feet up puts the family under strain, they are immensely proud of him after the event.

Throughout his life his family have seen so much tragedy that his achievements are remarkable.

He mother passed away with meningitis when he was 18 months old and his brother was barely 6 weeks old.

He was brought up by his maternal grandmother Mrs Daugherty and he is still known to his close friends as "Docker" Gray.

His father, who as a builder came to the Isle of Man in the 1920s and married Michael's Manx mother, worked on the building of the Pulrose Council Estate. Michael was born in Elm Avenue in Pulrose and formed his friendship with Allan Corlett as a child. The Corlett family, who are synonymous with Boundary Harriers, were farming on what is now built up land around Farmhill. Allan's brothers Dickie and Roy (and their wives Irene & Stella) were all heavily involved throughout the 30+ years of Boundary Harriers existence. Michael did his National Service with the Royal Armed Corps - the 12th Royal Lancers.

Michael's father was to lose his life serving during the Second World War. He was executed in a Japanese War Camp along with other British troops after the fall of Singapore in 1942. It was many years later that the bodies were exhumed and last year in a harrowing experience Michael saw his father's grave in Papua New Guinea for the first time.

Michael has been married for 51 years to his wife Olga who is very well known for her work in the local arts and charity work. Olga's brother, the late Dennis Lace, was the former Boundary Harriers and Isle of Man Athletics Association Chairman.

The family were drawn even further into charity work after another family tragedy.

Their daughter Michele emigrated to New Zealand with her Manx husband and journalist Paul Taggart. It was there that she developed breast cancer which, after a long and courageous battle, was to claim her life in 2005.

Michael completed his working life with the Harbour Police in 1994 and with Olga he has many happy memories of travelling to see their family in New Zealand. Since that time they, along with Stephanie, have worked tirelessly for the Charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, raising awareness and much needed funds for research into a disease which claims the lives of so many women. They have planted an Oak Tree on the Island for Michele and on December 5th, which would have been her 50th birthday, are holding a small party for her family and friends  in her memory.

The Gray family are so proud of their loved ones who are no longer with them, and who continue to motivate and inspire them every day. How nice if they could be here to see Michael and Stephanie on Douglas Promenade and share their wonderful achievements in the Parish Walk.


Murray Lambden - 29 November 2008

Michael with his wife of 51 years, Olga (photo Murray)


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