Weightlifting: Kirkbride has intention to lift his entire village

The recession has hit Hurlford hard, but locals will rise as one to watch favourite son today

The banner from the 2010 Commonwealth Games has only just come down. "Hurlford's Pride and Joy", it read, honouring Peter Kirkbride, the local weightlifter who brought a silver medal home. Today this small village in Ayrshire will suspend everything as its most famous son competes in the 94 kilogram category at the Olympic Games.

Hurlford, a few miles outside of Kilmarnock, is a place hoping for some good news amid the pain of the recession. "It is a typical valley village in Ayrshire," said Morean Hamilton, landlady of The Thistle, the local pub in which everyone will gather to watch 24-year-old Kirkbride today, as they always do. "It is not the most affluent area, since the closure of the Johnnie Walker factory and bottling plant, affecting hundreds of families," Morean said.

Sporting success is not an antidote to human hardship. No record or medal can bring jobs back to the area. But as Morean told The Independent, it is a place that is keen to have something to cheer.

"It is most famous now for the prison on its outskirts," she said of nearby HM Prison Kilmarnock. "We have not had a lot of good news over the last few years, or the most reasons to celebrate. But it is a very close-knit community, and when there is something of note people come together."

Hurlford has been rallying around Kirkbride for years. "Everybody knows everybody and everybody knows Peter," Morean explained.

Kirkbride has been chosen ahead of any local dignitary to open the village gala, which he was delighted to do. He is as active a participant in local life as an international athlete can be, and a proud representative.

Kirkbride's rise to the Olympic stage owes much to the bonds of his community. Charles Hamilton, Kirkbride's coach and the head coach at Kilmarnock Weightlifting Club, took up the story. "I worked with his dad on the roads while I was running the weightlifting club, and I saw him playing in the garden," Hamilton – Morean's brother-in-law – told The Independent.

"He was great, he could do backflips. He was quite gymnastically orientated already, so we just nourished him along, to take him up to the level he is now. But we knew we had a talent." From there Kirkbride showed early promise, winning gold in the 2004 Commonwealth Youth Games.

But it was tough for him as a young man, working as a concrete placer in Leven, driving for two hours every morning across Scotland to get there, training only late at night when he got back. "He was working in a construction company, working 12-hour shifts, and then coming into the gym at night," remembered Charles Hamilton. "Some days he would come back from work into the gym, I'd open it up first thing in the morning and he'd be there, asleep on the benches. He would have to balance his programme depending on workload."

Like many athletes competing for Britain here, the arrival of Lottery funding, which allowed Kirkbride to train full-time, made a radical difference. Since 2009 he has been a professional weightlifter, a change which swiftly bore fruit with his silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

"In the training camp he was getting stronger and stronger," Charles Hamilton, who was the head coach out there, recalled. "From first to fourth there was only one kilogram to separate them, but you don't know how much that medal means to him."

With their boy half a world away, Hurlford rose as one at dawn to watch in The Thistle. "It was nail-biting stuff, it was so close," said Morean Hamilton. "From the first thing in the morning we had a huge group of people there but you could have heard a pin drop." His homecoming party, which was probably rather louder, was in the same pub.

Since then, Kirkbride has been working hard, although his programme has been disrupted by injuries. "He is very dedicated and in his downtime he has been learning to play the bagpipes to switch off," said Morean Hamilton. "He is very good with the young kids in the club, dedicating his time to training with the youngsters based all around Kilmarnock. Some of those kids without that club would be no good on the streets."

Kirkbride is not widely expected to win a medal today. Charles Hamilton said that his plan was to win a medal in Delhi, qualify for London and then win gold at the Commonwealth Games up the road from Kilmarnock in Glasgow in 2014. "He's relaxed and very excited," Kirkbride's coach and mentor said. "I kept a wee eye on him, he looked pretty confident. He's looking forward to getting the first one in and, hopefully, getting a personal best." Whether it's Scotland or England, everyone who meets Peter likes him because he has a bit of character.

"The other day, when he met Princes William and Harry, he just said: 'Do you want to come along and watch me on Saturday?'"

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot