By Scott Mills
As the sun shone over Buckingham Palace on this mild Spring morning in April, a nostalgia filled the air that something historic was about to happen as both parents, family and friends covered the pavements as they prepared to watch the 2017 London Marathon.
With many of our junior athletes competing in the London Mini-Marathon, most of the families, friends and coaches of Weir Archer congregated at the finish line to cheer our athletes home.
After several months of hard work pushing themselves to their limits and through pain barriers at Kingsmeadow or Richmond Park, the day was finally upon the athletes to perform when it really mattered.
With the London Mini Marathon underway early, the tone of the day was set as Graham Spencer thundered down the Mall just missing out on 2nd place, laying out a marker that Jenny Archer’s team weren’t here just to take part.
If Spencer had set the benchmark, then the rest of the team certainly met it, as personal bests came around more often than the weekend.
Making everyone proud, Jamie Edwards, Matt Cooper and Morgan Woods also whizzed round the famous course and recorded some fantastic times, giving them a great start to the season.
Then it was our girls turn to show everyone what the Academy was made of, with Yasmin Somers and Olivia Gallagher also performing excellently.
As our juniors continued to impress and inspire, it was certainly fitting that just four years after Jenny Archer MBE and David Weir CBE created the Academy, these excellent performances would come on the six-time Paralympic Gold Medalists last ever appearance in London.
Including Weir, there were 70 wheelchair athletes taking part in this years marathon, a true testament of how the sport has been growing in popularity and what greats like Weir and Tanni Grey-Thompson have done for the sport, through their hard work and dedication.
Among those 70 the Academy were out in force, as Weir lined up alongside club captain JohnBoy Smith who was representing Great Britain, Stuart Bloor, Martyna Snopek and Sheik Sheik who was taking part in his first ever marathon.
As the starting gun went, nails were being bitten and the Weir Archer faithful were shaking with nerves both around the course and those watching at home, as Weir headed and held onto the front three of the pack.
As our senior athletes raced around this prestigious course, phone calls and messages were being frantically exchanged behind the scenes at the Mall, where the likes of Andy Spencer, Kirsty Bloor, Sue Moran, Scott Mills and Jenny Archer were trying to keep a close eye on the team around London.
If the 26 miles weren’t nerve-wracking enough, then the last 200 yards would be hellish for everyone who was willing the athletes on.
As Weir and Smith swung round the corner in front of Buckingham Palace at break-neck speed, time had seemed to slow down.
Every drop of sweat given in training, every sacrifice, the ups and the downs and every previous success and failure for these athletes had come down to this moment.
Often putting her athletes before herself every single day, all of Archer’s work had also come down to this.
All the hours she had given to make the athletes dreams and ambitions come true had boiled down to this very moment and they didn’t let her down.
Keeping close on Switzerland’s Marcel Hug’s tail, Weir waited for his moment to pounce and as they came round Buckingham Palace to the home straight, in front of his family, friends and his Academy, he dug deep and went for it.
In front of hundreds of cheering supporters, Weir accelerated past Hug and powerfully pushed through the finish line, setting off euphoria in the stands and on the sofas of those watching up and down the country.
Following suit was Smith who raced superbly to climb up his constant ladder of progression, finishing in a time of 1 hour 33 minutes and becoming the first member of the GB squad to make it across the finishing line.
As Weir and Archers new historical 7th record win at the London Marathon began to sink in, Stuart Bloor, Martyna Snopek and Sheik Sheik were to conclude an excellent day for the team.
Defying illnesses, blisters and bad weather in recent races to record personal bests, Bloor was on course for a new marathon PB after getting a Half Marathon one over the first 21k.
But yet again luck was not on his side, as by the 18th mile he got a puncture making the last eight miles extremely tough which through pure grit and determination he got to.
Finishing in 9th in the women’s race, Snopek also did the academy proud as did Sheik in his first ever marathon with a time of 2 hours 7 minutes.
A special mention is also due to Simon Lawson, who has trained with the team on several occasions including in Portugal.
The Cambrian was racing well in the front pack until a collision sent him flying out of his chair, badly injuring his arm at mile 17.
Despite this Lawson got back into his chair and completed the race in a great time- a true testament to this amazing athletes determination and work ethic.
And the Academy weren’t done there as success from other races around the world started to file in.
Joao Corriea recorded a PB in Portugal over the 100m distance alongside Justin Levene who won the Venice Marathon before jetting off to compete in Korea- two very well deserved results for two athletes who work very hard behind the scenes to help the Academy.
So after obtaining six World Championship golds, four European Championship golds, one Commonwealth Games gold medal, several world records and the 2004, 2008 and 2012 High Performance Coach of the Year awards, Coach of the year in 2012, Leaders in Performance in 2012 and the elite coach award in 2013, among others, Weir and Archer had added yet another record to their long list of achievements.
Even in the face of adversity and doubters, the pair once again managed to prove those wrong who said they couldn’t do it- something they’ve done their whole careers.
It is at this moment that the Academy would like to thank Michelle Weltman and her London Marathon team, all of the family, friends and coaches of the Academy, the Pen Ponds family in Richmond Park and everyone who has supported the athletes over the years- Thank you!