Wednesday

Part 8: Jinxed from Cheese Rolling

As crippling mishaps go, it would be hard to top Gareth Smedley's.

When he was seven, his family went to watch the race on a hot Bank Holiday Monday in 1982.

Rather than jostle with the crowds, they decided to watch from a field further down the slope.

Just as the Cheese Roll began, though, a storm broke. The Smedleys and another family ran for cover under a tree.

In hindsight, it was a stupid thing to do—but as his dad said, "It always happens to someone else, doesn't it?"

There was no bang or flash when the lightning hit.


Gareth's mother, Barbara, woke to find herself lying in the wet field, dazed and unable to move. A bomb's exploded! she thought.

But then she looked up and saw the races continuing as normal. That's when she realised: both families had been blown several feet from the tree, forming a ring of bodies around the trunk.

None of them could get up—the electricity had contracted their muscles so violently their limbs were useless. Her husband had a singed spot on his leg, and little Gareth had a hole burnt in his T-shirt where he had been leaning against the tree.

Someone alerted the medics, and they were rushed off in an ambulance. All eight of them were released later that day, but it was a full week before they fully recovered.

Barbara has been wary of Cooper's Hill ever since. "I felt that we were jinxed from the cheese rolling."

If only Gareth would have listened.

Every year he and his friends would watch the race, and every year he would tell his mother he was going to run in it. Somehow, though, his youthful bravado had never materialised into action.

So when he told her at the age of 17 that he was going to do it, Barbara didn't believe him. Little did she know that he had secretly taken a test run the night before and made it to the bottom without a scratch.

"I was gonna win all three cheeses, wasn't I?" he recalls, grinning.

Despite his confidence, the timing of his debut didn't bode well—it happened to be the 10th anniversary of the Smedleys' first ill-fated experience on Cooper's Hill.


©J.R. Daeschner

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