When the man you love ... is in love with speed
Four riders’ wives tell Stephanie Bell how they cope with life in the fast lane.
Tomorrow tens of thousands of spectators will line the nine-mile course of the North West 200 motorcycle race to watch their biker heroes hurtle past at speeds of up to 200mph.
Among the throng will be a special group of people — the wives, girlfriends and families of the riders — all hoping that their men will taste success, but most of all that they will return safely.
For road racing on public highways is a dangerous sport as the mounting toll of fatalities and injuries testify.
And the North West 200 is one of the fastest circuits where riders clock up average speeds of 120mph. We talk to four wives who loyally stand by their men’s choice of career, knowing they love the high-octane thrills of motorcycle racing and are willing to defy the dangers.
The women will view the races from the competitor’s paddock or from vantage points around the course or just listen to the commentary, all the time hoping for the best and fearing the worst.
They tell us how racing consumes their lives, entailing huge sacrifices for the entire family and how that tiny knot of fear remains every time their husbands don their racing leathers.
The wives who watch, wait ... and worry
‘I know that there’s always a risk’
Rachel Burrows (33) is married to John (40) who is part of the Cookstown BE Racing team. The couple, who have been married three years, live outside Dungannon and have one child Jack (2) and a second baby due in October. Rachel says:
I met John through mutual friends who set us up on a blind date. We didn’t totally hit it off straight away as he was into racing and I was into shopping and we were two different people.
Gradually over time we got to know each other and here we are five years later with a second baby on the way.
I had never been to a road race in my life before I met John. I remember when I went to my first race in mid-Antrim I had no idea what to expect and I was wearing a pair of heels. My mum laughs now and would say that before I met John I didn’t own a pair of trainers and now I live in my trainers.
In the first few months after I met John he had a couple of accidents. He dislocated his shoulder and pulled off his finger which thankfully they were able to save. It didn’t put me off though. It really does become your life and it is a very good lifestyle. Once the racing is out of the way, it is great and there is a super social aspect to it. We have made many good friends through the racing community and met lots of new people.
I don’t think the worry ever goes away. After John did his practice race this week I just thought, ‘oh good that’s the practice down, just two more races to go’.
You do be really nervous and I think it has become worse since we had Jack. He is very much a daddy’s boy and wants to go everywhere daddy goes. Before we just had each other to think about but now there is a child to consider and another on the way.
I think John is relatively safe, he doesn’t take risks. I know there is always going to be a risk to what he does. I just heave a sigh of relief on Sunday when we are heading home together after the races.
I do watch him race and I try to go to all the races. This year Jack is really excited about the North West and seeing his daddy race. It is exciting and I like to see him setting off and then coming back as well.
There is always that element of fear. I wouldn’t dream of asking him to give it up as I think that would be unfair and it would mean not letting him be the person he is.”
‘It hit the boys hard when Jeremy was hurt in race’
Jill McWilliams (45), who manages Kids at BT9 Nursery, is married to Jeremy McWilliams (48) who is making his North West debut this year. The couple, who have been married 21 years, live in Newtownabbey and have two children, Jack (17) and Zak (14). Jill says:
Jeremy and I lived close to each other in Newtownabbey and hung around the same shops together, as you did back then. We started going out when I just 16. He had a motorbike which he just rode to and from work then and it wasn’t until he was 23 that he started to race.
I was so young and just enjoyed the whole buzz and hype of it and didn’t even think of the fear factor back then. Every weekend we would be packing the van to head off to racing, we had no kids and no worries, and it was all very exciting.
He became successful very quickly, winning his first Irish championship in his first year of racing. He then said when he won both Irish championships he would propose and that became a bit of a joke in the paddock and two years later he did and he asked me to marry him.
He has had quite a few accidents over the years and I know some wives and girlfriends don’t like to watch the racing but I prefer to be there, at least you know firsthand what is happening.
I remember a few years ago he was at the Moto GP in Spain when he broke his collar bone and his femur and had to have half of a finger amputated.
I flew out with the boys and when I got there and saw him I just thought ‘oh my goodness look at your injuries’ and I think it hit the boys hard as well, they didn’t like to see their daddy like that.
I think as they have gotten older, seeing the serious side of it has put them off getting into racing.
At this year’s North West he will be ticking another box at 48 years of age.
His first practice went well and it’s all about learning the track and Jeremy seems to learn them quickly.
He has got a bit of stick because he used to be against road racing. I think now that he is a bit older he will be able to hold back on his speed whereas when he was 25 or 26 he would have given it 100% on the road. I think back then he wouldn’t have differentiated between the speeds needed for short circuits and road racing.
You can’t say you don’t get nervous, I’m sure every wife does. I will be willing him to do well, but in the back of my mind somewhere will be a worry about an accident but you can’t dwell on that.”
‘Our lives revolve around Ryan’s sport’
Karen Farquhar (31), a full-time mum, is married to Ryan (36) who is with the KMR Kawasaki team and has had three North West wins and nine podiums. They have been married for eight years and have two children, Keeley (7) and Mya (3). Karen says:
Ryan and I met through a friend who took me to the Cookstown 100 which is close to where I grew up in Stewartstown, Co Tyrone. Ryan is so dedicated to his racing career and puts 100% into it which is why he has had so many successes.
He believes you get out what you put in and I see the amount of work he puts into it. It means that we have very little family time together. You wouldn’t see Ryan doing Keeley’s homework with her or bathing the girls for bed.
We don’t have a normal family life like that but I feel lucky that I am able to be home to look after the girls and that I don’t have to work.
It’s now just a way of life for us.Most of the times we eat together and we sleep together and outside of that Ryan is pretty much working with motorbikes. Our lives revolve around what Ryan does and it can be annoying at times but the way I look at it, he could be doing much worse things.
He is a very good husband and father and anything we need he will get it for us. I, the girls and his whole family are extremely proud of him. His racing is a worry to me every single day of my life but I think that is just my nature.
If Ryan wasn’t a racing I would probably be worrying about something else.
If there is an accident and someone does get killed it has been very hard for me to get on with things. I would be stressed |out about it as I don’t want that |happening to him.
I would probably prefer it if he didn’t race but he does and he loves it and why would you give something up that you love and are so successful at. I will be at the North West for his races but I prefer not to watch. I will be in the paddock or sitting in the camper van listening on the radio.”
‘Our family lives every day with the dangers’
Melanie Archibald (35), a fitness instructor at the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre, Ballymoney, is married to Adrian Archibald (42), of the AMA Racing Team. They have been married for 14 years and live outside Ballymoney with children Aaron (7) and Eva (17 months). Melanie says:
Adrian and I met in Nero’s Niteclub in Portstewart. I had absolutely no interest in motorbike racing before I met Adrian, even though I lived close to the North West 200 route. It just never rocked my boat.
It’s like everything else in life, you learn to compromise. It’s not long though before racing takes over your whole life; our family just lives and breathes it now.
You get used to it, it becomes a way of life and you live every day with the dangers. You just learn to accept it.
I would try to go to all the races and every time you just hope and pray that he will stay safe. I don’t worry so much now because of his experience.
I think I worried a lot more when he was younger. At the TT in the Isle of Man he would generally be on his own for most of the race which always made me feel like he was safer as there weren’t so many people on the track near him.
He has had a few accidents and dislocated his shoulder — nothing too serious. He has been very lucky. You can’t dwell on that side of it, you just have to accept that it is what he does and if we have to deal with something then we will deal with it when it happens.
I am a great believer in what is for you will not pass you by.
Our son Aaron has no interest in bikes, but he is football mad. Adrian spends a lot of time with motorbikes but we try to cram as much as we can into what time we have together and he would be home in time at night to put the boys to bed. I work some nights so he does his share.
We do have to sacrifice some things for the racing, like some Saturdays we might just want to go shopping but we can’t. We make sure that we have one big holiday every summer together which is time out for everybody.
I’ll be at the North West to watch him race and just to wish him well.”
... but women race too
Two female racers are taking part tomorrow for the second time
- Simona Zaccardi (37), from Rome, has a one-year-old daughter Gillian whose name is emblazoned on her bike. Simona has raced on the Isle of Man and in the Italian and European championships as well
- Ornella Ongaro (21), from Cannes, is a road racing specialist and the French champion
- In 1996 Anita Buxton competed in her first road race around the famous North West Triangle course and has raced here several times\[n.wolsey\] as well as on the Isle of Man and on circuits in the UK
- Maria Costello (38) came third in her class on her debut at the North West and set a world record in 2004 when she became the fastest woman around the Isle of Man TT course at an average speed of over 114mph — the figure\[n.wolsey\] which has since been beaten