Olympic athlete Roger Black on his love of Guildford
PUBLISHED: 06:39 21 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:05 12 April 2018
Olympian Roger Black never needs an excuse to escape to the Surrey Hills but this month he's championing an epic adventure that's particularly close to his heart. Here, he talks charity challenges, Guildford life and his new job as a theatre 'runner'
The chances are that if you’ve ever witnessed an Olympian blur whizzing tea pots and donuts through the halls of Guildford’s riverside Yvonne Arnaud Theatre and thought ‘well doesn’t that charming fellow have a remarkable resemblance to former 400m champion Roger Black?!’ that you’ve seen the man himself helping to ensure their latest production runs smoothly.
“My wife, Julia, is a theatre director there and so I always find myself getting involved and helping out where I can,” says the 51-year-old from his home near Guildford.
“I just pop along to make the teas, coffees, do the donut run etc. That’s my job these days! How the mighty have fallen, hey?! I think in the programme notes they describe me as the ‘runner’, but most people don’t realise what that actually entails these days…
“I’m on the board of the theatre and they’ve done an amazing job in making it an evening destination in its own right – I must get round to trying the new tapas bar there.”
Moving to Surrey
Probably best remembered for his part in the 4x400m relay triumph at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo (homemade t-shirts marking the occasion were still spotted at this summer’s World Championships in London!), alongside fellow teammates Kriss Akabusi, Derek Redmond and John Regis, Roger moved to Surrey in 1995 to prepare for the Atlanta Olympics.
“My coach at the time was living in Farnham and the track at the Guildford Spectrum leisure complex persuaded me to move up here – without it, Guildford may never have become home but I’ve really never looked back since.”
Retiring from athletics a few years later in 1998, Roger has used his Surrey base to run a corporate leadership development business with former Olympic javelin thrower Steve Backley – but, if he ever fancies a further career change, the desk at Guildford Tourist Information Centre might be worth considering, such is the infectious enthusiasm with which he tackles the subject of his home town.
“I probably do sound a bit like a tourism officer but Guildford really is hard to beat,” he laughs. “My favourite corner of the town is the castle grounds – every time we walk through, there seems to be something new to catch your eye. The gardeners really do an amazing job. How lucky are we to be able to just wander through a place like that in a town centre? It’s majestic.
“Just opposite the castle you’ve got the new Tunsgate development too. When that’s finished, it looks like it’s going to be amazing. I’m mean, it’s such a huge investment it’s sort of got to be good hasn’t it?
“We’ve got great pubs and restaurants, beautiful parks and countryside, facilities like Surrey Sports Park and the Spectrum… I mean, come on! Why would I ever leave?”
Head for the hills
When not running his errands at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre or driving around the country to inspire corporate leaders, Roger is a keen advocate of escaping to the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“I still do a bit of cycling, a bit of tennis, jogging in the mornings etc. but I really love walking our dog in some of the beautiful areas we have on our doorstep,” he says. “I’ve always grown up with dogs and Howie, our cockapoo, certainly keeps us busy. We love heading to places like The Chantries, Newlands Corner, Box Hill, Leith Hill etc. As you get older, you appreciate more and more how important it is to keep moving. I’m lucky that I have a work life that’s flexible enough to keep me moving about – it’s a lot harder for people who work permanently in offices, stuck at desks etc. I guess.”
As with so many former athletes, he’s keen to do what he can to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle and maintain a positive legacy from the 2012 London Olympics. While he’s taken more of a back seat with national athletics since his ambassadorial role to Team GB in London, he is a keen supporter of GoFest, a family sports festival that started at Guildford’s Surrey Sports Park in 2015 and has since expanded up to Manchester.
“It’s a very bold project and the founder, Paul Farris, is really passionate,” says Roger. “I’ve got two kids and they’re not crazy sport, sport, sport yet – but that’s exactly the kind of people the festival is aimed at. It opens up new opportunities.
“My kids ended up paddleboarding with their mates in the swimming pool and absolutely loved it. Who knows? You might see us all out on the River Wey now!”
This month, he’s supporting Surrey Care Trust’s Surrey 5 Peaks Hikeathon – a 13 or 26-mile walk taking in The Chalk Spur (Headley Heath), The Gallops (Mickleham Downs), Norbury Park viewpoint, The Temple (The Nower) and Salomons Memorial (Box Hill). He became a patron of the charity, which tackles disadvantage, social exclusion and hardship in local communities, many years ago and it’s clearly a subject that’s very close to his heart.
“It’s fair to say that when you have any sort of profile you get contacted by a lot of charities all hoping for you to support them and it can be very difficult to decide who to focus your time on,” he says. “I’ve always tried to go for charities that directly impact the area I live in and the challenge Surrey Care Trust face is that people always presume there’s no poverty in Surrey. Sadly, people can too easily get forgotten among the overall wealth of our county and SCT sets out to help these people.
“We should take any opportunity we have to offer new options for people to explore, whether in sport or general life. It’s so important to say ‘we believe in you’ sometimes – and that goes for later in life just as much as childhood. It can make all the difference.”
With those earnest words ringing down the phone line, Roger is off to see how he can muck in behind the scenes at this week’s theatre production. The man deserves a medal…
My Favourite Surrey
Restaurant: I’m a fan of the March Hare. That site has had its ups and downs over the years, but I think it absolutely works how it is now – you can pop in for a drink or dinner and I love that part of Guildford with the castle gardens etc.
Café: We love Carracoli but our new favourite coffee bar is Surrey Hills Coffee… it’s very small but it’s got a lovely feel to it.
Place to relax: Whenever Julia and I get a chance we’ll take a stroll through Guildford Castle Grounds. It’s such a relaxing place.
View: The view from the top of St Martha’s Hill, near Chilworth. We always stop at our favourite bench near the church to look out over Newlands Corner and other parts of the Surrey Hills. You can also see our village, which is nice.
Tips for long distance walking
• Make sure your feet stay dry so take a spare pair of cushioned, breathable socks and a small pot of talcum powder.
• Rubbing Vaseline on a blister can reduce friction
• While walking, stretch out muscles that you’re NOT using such as rolling your shoulders.
• Use your arms for more momentum - balance your leg and arms swings.
• Post-walk take a cold shower to reduce any swelling. If you can brave a cold bath, even better – adding ice cubes will really do the trick!