RETRO: How Sheffield’s ‘Man with a Pram’ got his nickname

John Burkhill during one of his charity fundraising walks.
John Burkhill during one of his charity fundraising walks.
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Legendary Sheffield fundraiser John Burkhill has relived his extraordinary life in a charity biography.

Today The Star publishes the second extract from Distance No Object: Sheffield’s Man with the Pram as part of a six week serialisation of the book to raise money for Macmillan.

John's children Karen and Stuart.

John's children Karen and Stuart.

The following extract focuses on how John first got into walking and how he later came to be nicknamed the ‘Man with the Pram’.

“In 1965 my son Stuart was born. Karen, being a few years older, thought the world of him. I was as proud as punch and June was over the moon. By 1966, with two healthy, happy young children, we were very content.

“What a year that was – who can ever forget the England and Germany World Cup Final?

“One of our sports team took part in the Sheffield Star Walk, so I thought I’d have a go the following year. Little did I know then that race walking would take over my life.

John Burkhills Star Walk certificate.

John Burkhills Star Walk certificate.

“First I had to learn the rules, which involve keeping one foot on the ground at all times, otherwise you can get disqualified for what is called ‘lifting’.

“It is not an easy thing to walk fast and keep one foot on the ground, so you must swing your hips and ‘heel and toe’.

I trained to train while ever I could, sometimes even hip-swinging my way around my Express Dairies milk round – which drew some rather funny looks from our customers!

“The following year I entered the race with my mate from Express, Roy Moorhouse.

“We lined up on the High Street by the Star’s offices alongside another couple of hundred hopefuls. The crowds were enormous all the way round the 12-mile course. What a race. As always, my family came to cheer me on. Karen shouted: ‘Come on dad, you’ll win this, you’ll beat them!’ I said: ‘I won’t unless I leg ‘em o’er!’

“I would go on to do every Star Walk until it finished in 2000. I really loved that Star Walk course and I really tried to win, although I never managed it. In the last ten years of the race, I began pushing my pram round the course – more about the pram later – and it was in a Star Walk that I was given the name ‘the mad man with the pram’. I remember the day well: I was coming in to the finish at Hillsborough Park, and the weather was chucking it down. The race commentator, the Star’s publicity manager Peter Gray, spotted me, and his words over the speakers were: “Here he comes, the mad man with the pram.

“The name stuck, and I am very proud of it.”