Many of the guest took part in a commemorative walk from the Art Gallery of New South Wales to Customs House at Circular Quay, adding yet more colour and vibrancy to the Botanical Gardens as the walkers made their way through the park on a bright, sunny morning.
A generous grant from the Lord Mayor of Sydney, the Honourable Clover Moore, had given the Club access to the Barnet Long Room at Customs House. It was a fine venue for the gathering of the 70 or so attendees.
Among the guests were many former Committee members, who had done much to build the Club in its early days.
One such guest was Richard Shakenovsky, a founder-member and the Club’s first President.
Peter and Marilyn Ralston represented Achilles Canberra, and Amanda Kwong and Julie Boyd flew the flag for the recently-formed Achilles Melbourne.
Blind Sport Victoria President Maurice Gleeson attended, along with colleagues Patricia Douglas and Robin Kelaart.
Australian and Oceania Champion Paratriathlete and Achilles member Jonathan Goerlach was able to attend despite his busy competitive schedule Jonathan had recently been elected to the International Triathletes’ Union Committee. Suzanne Colbert AM, Patron of the Achilles Club was present, along with her husband John Little.
After an acknowledgement to country, proceedings opened with a video message from the founder of Achilles International, Dick Traum. The message contained warm greetings and congratulations on the Club’s milestone. Dick also recalled the occasional visits to New York and Boston by members of Achilles Australia.
Club President, Ellis Janks, took the stage to welcome the guests. In his opening remarks, Ellis recalled the early days of Achilles. Membership was small, but there was a determination to grow. The Club’s activities were communicated in paper newsletters, or on now-defunct cassette-tapes. All were delivered in what is now referred to dismissively as “snail mail”. Today, there is a dizzying array of electronic media, with the likelihood that all will be different again in 10 years’ time.
Ellis compared such changes with the constancy of the relationship between the Club’s members with disabilities and its volunteers. Such interactions were mutually beneficial, allowing the guided and the guide to grow from the opportunities created. Beyond the health benefits, were the societal benefits of the breaking down of barriers and creation of new experiences.
Richard’s idea to form Achilles in Australia had resulted in an initial gathering, at which about 15 guides escorted Nick and Heather Gleeson around Centennial Park. That was on a Sunday morning in June 1986. It was the first of the weekly training sessions. There have been over 800 since.
After describing the growth of the Club and welcoming the creation of the Melbourne and Canberra clubs, Ellis thanked past and present Committee members. He also thanked his family for all the support they had given him during the 20 years of Achilles.
Club Patron, Suzanne Colbert, congratulated Achilles on the work it was doing in breaking down barriers in such a supportive way. She praised the Club for its successes and wished it well for the future.
At this point, Ellis returned to the stage and called on Richard Shakenovsky to present Life Memberships to Charlie McConnell, Nicholas Gleeson and Michael Levy. The trio was surprised and the audience delighted. The Life Memberships were awarded in recognition of their long and active involvement with the Club and for their many contributions to its success. Although caught unawares, Charlie, Nick and Michael recounted anecdotes of the early days and the progress made in the last twenty years.
A roving microphone, expertly managed by Majella and Catherine, allowed a number of members with disabilities and volunteers to talk about their experiences with Achilles.
The funny, charming and occasionally moving accounts were followed by a boisterously good-humoured raffle of the many prizes donated to the Club for the occasion.
Having sprung a surprise on the Club’s new Life Members, Ellis was himself surprised when Club Vice President Martin Ruane presented Ellis with an album of photographs and written greetings from many of the Achilles members.
And so ended the celebration of the Achilles Running Club’s 20th Birthday