Heather walks the walk on the road to success
Gary Baker on 25/06/2012
Walking around the hills and valleys of Wales is a natural passion for many of the public and Heather Lewis is no different in her love of putting one foot in front of the other except for one thing - she does it very fast!
Race walking has not been a great discipline in the Principality for decades and it is always a shame when, at the annual Welsh Athletics Championships at Leckwith Stadium, just a handful of competitors toe the start line.
Not since Cardiff AC's Steve Barry, a colossus of walking at pace, had a real 'contender' for major championships honours come to the fore.
Barry, whose picture still adorns the wall of his clubhouse in the capital city, won gold in the Brisbane Commonwealth Games 30km event back in 1982 and finishing 24th over 20km in the Los Angeles Olympics two years later.
However, teenager Lewis is aiming to bring back the good times in the technically challenging sport and says there are others in a nice West Wales 'group' who are making advances of their own.
Lewis, 18, lives between Narberth and Haverfordwest, and is making exceptional advances in the four years since she swapped running for the seemingly slower pace.
It paid off again this month as she won the Welsh Championships Under-20s three kilometre title at the National Athletics Stadium, Cardiff, in a new Welsh record of 13mins 56.87secs.
She said: "I was a 1500 metre runner when I was younger and did a couple of 800m. I enjoyed running but I admit I was never going to be brilliant. So I was introduced to race walking and now I just love it."
While her walking has taking massive strides, leading to two Great Britain junior vests already, it has come at a cost to any running ambitions she may have had.
"I used to do a lot of running but because my training has become a lot harder and intense in race walking, I'm probably the worst runner you have ever seen now," she laughed.
Still, that is not a bad thing if, under the wing of acclaimed Scottish walking coach Martin Bell, she can emulate the achievements of Barry and reach the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and then the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero.
Lewis was born ten years after Barry's glory days and admitted: "He is one of the names that has been mentioned to me when we have been talking about walking."
Lewis showed her incredible endurance over her longer junior distance of ten kilometres this year when becoming the only British female athlete to complete the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Russia on May 12 this year.
The teenager came home in 23rd place in a time of 50.38mins, just over 40 seconds behind her personal best of 49.51mins, in blistering heat that saw even the best competitors wilt.
She classes that effort and her PB, made when winning the Race Walkers Association Championships at Redbridge in March this year, as her greatest achievements to date.
But that Russian trip had a pre-flight twist. Lewis said: "Everyone said Russia will be cold so I packed my woolly hat in the bag. When I got there, it was boiling and, on the day of the race, it was 29 degrees!
"I was the only (British) junior to finish the race, with one of our girls dropping out because it was so hot. I was hoping for a better time but because of the heat, I was happy to have done my best."
Lewis has the world before her - and that means possible selection for the World Junior Championships in Barcelona, Spain, this July.
But she is aiming high and hopes that, after she moves up into the senior ranks and is able to then race the longest women's distance of all - 20kms - she can make a lasting impression.
Lewis said: "I have not done a 20km before so I will do that in September so I can move on further. It will be brilliant to do one because Johanna Jackson is the British number one but is so much better than anyone else that she usually walks alone.
"I am going to train hard to move up and then try and keep her company throughout the 20k."
She is attached to Pembrokeshire Harriers, with the training area only a ten minute journey from the farmhouse she lives in with her family, but she walks the walk along the country roads of her neighbourhood.
And while the Pembrokeshire College student, who is studying for three A Level-equivalent BTECs in Sports Science, is leading the way, others are following in her footsteps.
"It's a brilliant time (for race walkers) at the moment because we have two sisters doing it well down here and we have another two walkers from, I think, Llanelli and Neath. They are all young and so we have a great group coming through."
Lewis is aiming for future global glory rather than at this year's London Olympics but, if her dreams become reality, then Wales will have another great walker to follow the path laid down by Commonwealth Games gold medallist Barry all those years ago.
That will really be walking the walk!
back to article index