Although I could never claim to have been talented at any sport, I have always loved football, cricket and squash. But my passion has always been rugby – the social life and the comradeship were almost as important to me as the game. In my native Ireland, in Canada, Australia, England and Nigeria, I played them all. Sport dominated my social calendar for as long as I could remember.
When I arrived in Caracas in late 1978, to take up my new position with Maraven, the oil company – it used to belong to Shell, nobody seemed to have heard of any of my sporting interests being played locally. I was taken to the office of Herbert Robinson. I was told that if anybody knew about sports, it would be Herbert.
Formerly from Trinidad, Herbert was an ex-sprinter, who had represented Venezuela in international competitions. And he still looked the part – lean and muscular. He was not able to help me with my preferred sports – they probably did not exist in that era in Caracas, but suggested that I go with him that weekend to an oil industry 10km cross-county race. I protested that I had never competed in a race of any distance, but he insisted that I looked fit and that I would enjoy the experience. I acquiesced.
So that Sunday I turned up at the Parque del Este and, to my surprise, won the race by several minutes. Soon after Herbert entered me in a public race, in which I came third and again soon after, with the same result. I was hooked and in the next 25 years I competed in more than 350 races in several countries, although only very rarely finishing in one of the top positions.
After I moved on from Caracas, I lost touch with Herbert. But I will be eternally grateful for his guidance and support. And who knows, perhaps our paths will once more cross.
But almost certainly never again in a race.
Herbert Robinson, Iris, Jorge Herrera, Ivonne Garban and Len Blackwood