Top cyclist Terry Higgins was once the toast of Launceston, but only after he rode to the top from humble beginnings | The Examiner


news, local-news,

After all the miles Terry Higgins pumped into his legs, no wonder standing up these days can be something of a struggle. The 86-year-old’s on his feet for a couple of hours a day before heading back to bed. That gives one of the main attractions of 1950s cycling in Launceston plenty of time to shut his eyes and think back to yesteryear. Every moment, ever battle, every surge. Like the day in 1954 now etched into his mind when a cocky teenager upset not only favourite Colin McKay but race organisers. It was that last stage win of the Tour of the North that is still his biggest claim to fame. “When I got to Perth I knew I was going to win it because I sprinted alongside him, looked at him and thought he’s riding a much bigger gear than I am,” Higgins grins. “He was on 96 or something like that and I was on only 88.” Higgins, at the time, was a fan of world champion track cyclist Reg Harris and modelled his work on the pedals, right down to the identical gear number, on the Brit. The ferocious will to win until the finish line was a characteristic that Higgins copied. It was complimented by a kind gesture from Examiner reporter Jack Connolly of a pristine new bike and paying his tour fees. That bike may have been the difference to eventually overcome the overall Tour winner from Victoria on the stage that had most the eyes lined across the city streets. He only cycled on a fixed wheel and this day took advantage when the gears kicked. “Coming down Bathurst Street, he took off on the sprint and I just sat there and waited for my time,” Higgins says. “I won it by a wheel and they reckoned I only won by inches, but they were blind. I knew how much I won it by. When I was finishing, he had too big of a gear to finish.” Higgins recalls finishing 23 minutes ahead before the rest of the bunch came home. “There’s nobody ever who has won a tour bike race in Australian cycling history by that much,” he declares from research undertaken over the years since. The Examiner event was just the start of it. Later that same year, Higgins went on to record one of the fastest times in the long distance championship of Tasmania that stretched from Launceston to Hobart. “We used start at the old police station and ride up Wellington Street,” he says. “Well there were about 10 of us off scratch. “The time I got off the top of Wellington Street, there was only Johnny Campbell and myself left and we rode most of the way down to Hobart. Only eight blokes finished – it was that hard of a bike race. “We [earlier] had snow fall in ’54, going up through Oatlands and those places where there was always very rough weather.” As much as 1956 was a year to remember, it was also a year to forget when Higgins had an accident at work and was ruled out of all competitions for the next 12 months. So he spent more of his time out dressing up old York Park where the manicured turf around the boundary line of UTAS Stadium had once made way for a cycling track. ELSEWHERE IN SPORT Work included installing floodlights at no cost to council for when thousands used to pack full of excitement, mostly huddled around the fence, under the night skies. It was a venue that Higgins won a “helluva lot” of five-mile scratch races there, but where he also counted 14 wheelrace wins. The victories added up and served his legs well when he sprinted out the fastest Hobart five-mile time in just under nine minutes, back fully fit and riding again, in 1958. “I wasn’t a track man, but I won the five-mile still in a record time,” Higgins says. “Nobody will ever break it.” The accolades, the cheers, the applause flowed from others, but it was white noise to Higgins who was resigned to the fact that things would never be the same again. When his second wife became pregnant, it was time to walk away, park the bike in the shed for good and never to ride again. The soon-to-be-dad didn’t want to take anything for granted anymore. “My first wife just drop dead, after being married for just three months, in our kitchen after she had a massive heart attack there,” Higgins deadpans. The repercussions had an affect by the end of the decade to end a cycling career that evolved from the start of the decade. Higgins swears his first competitive bike ride he claimed a shock victory in the junior championship of Tasmania. The next year, 1953, it was the juvenile championship. The successes ensured the precocious talent would join a trio of Tasmanian teammates that were handpicked to attend the Australian schoolboys road titles in Sydney that created a slice of unique history. “We got first and second, and a our third boy, a horse at Parramatta Park ran into him and put him in hospital,” Higgins recalls. That cycling pedigree began with his dad. Elrick Higgins, who was a twin, his son tells, came to prominence winning the 1932 Sheffield wheelrace when it was a huge deal. The inspiration on the bike wasn’t one off of it. Higgins years later regarded his dad as a “bit of a pisspot”, who drunk bashed him with a belt, but just the same, no one would have a bad thing to say including in death. “I never seen so many people go to any bloke’s funeral. That day they were out on the street and everything, and did I get the shock of my life,” Higgins admits. As Higgins was raised to be a “boisterous” only child, that turned him into a teetotaler. “Because I’ve grown up with my father on the beer all the time, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t believe in bashing women, as you come into this world with nothing and you go out with nothing,” Higgins says. It’s easy to see those convictions living out in the man. The quiet existence the solitary Turners Marsh resident nowadays lives in the bush is a testimony to that. It’s of a very simple life inside a converted shipping container with very few mod cons. But life was tougher growing up in Railton. “I lived in an old sleep out where the rain used to blow through the windows where the light meter was on the concrete floor, and the rain used to blow open another door and you used to have to tie it down,” he says. That wasn’t nearly the worse of it. The seven-year-old kid was run over by a truck and walked away with brain damage. “They didn’t know if I’d live or die, but it’s when they found out I had diabetes that I had to live and cycle with,” Higgins adds. Subscriptions are available here. Sign up to our Sport email here.

Credit: Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here