Doing it for Grace – World shearing record on the line
September 15, 2019.
English shearer Stu Connor is mounting possibly the bravest of World record challenges as he hunts-down a record of 867 lambs in nine hours next Saturday (September 21).
With several New Zealand seasons behind him, the 36-year-old, who will be shearing at Fern Hill Farm, Compton Martin, Somerset, has already shown his capabilities, with a working-day P.B. of 909 in nine hours in a woolshed near Nightcaps in Southland.
But that was 10 years ago, a decade in a career now focused on doing it for daughter Grace who died at the age of three on April 23, 2018, one month after the perfectly healthy youngster fell suddenly ill with the first of a series of strokes, and just three days after Connor and wife Kira learned their first child would not survive the just-diagnosed Mitochondrial Disease.
The bid for the strongwool lambs record, which had been held exclusively by New Zealand shearers until Irish gun Ivan Scott set a new mark in England three years ago, will thus double as a Team Grace fundraiser for the Lily Foundation fight against the disease, including research to find a cure.
Team Grace fundraisers have already contributed over £55,000 (about $NZ100,000) via the JustGiving page https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/lilyfoundation/teamgrace
Despite the obvious shearing talent, Connor had shorn only a small number of competitions before the arrival of Grace in February 2015.
But initially inclined to “jack it all in,” including his shearing around home territory Banbury in Oxfordshire, to concentrate on fatherhood and family, he found the girl herself became the inspiration for setting new goals with the handpiece.
With just two seasons on the circuit he was named late last year as UK Shearing Personality of the Year, and, with the title of England Circuit Champion in his kit, on the path to being one of two England machine shearing representatives at the Golden Shears World Championships held in France in July this year.
In a profile in UK shearing competitions directory Newsclip he said: “In June 2017 as a family and with other shearers and woolhandlers, we attended the Royal Three Counties Show for a day of competing.”
“I wasn’t placed in the competition but Grace absolutely loved seeing me on the stand, and I felt I could do so much better,” he wrote.
The family started going to more and more shows, and Connor said: “Grace loved every minute of watching me shearing and in particular sitting on my shoulders at the Corwen Shears to watch the New Zealand-Wales test match.”
He started fitness training with Matt Luxton, the England specialist behind the success in the first World shearing record in the Northern Hemisphere, farmer and New Zealand shearer Matt Smith’s ewes record at Trefranck Farm, Cornwall, on July 26, 2016.
It was soon after returning from a few weeks in New Zealand early last year that Grace took ill, but Connor stuck to the dream, including winning his place in the England team, a return to New Zealand earlier this year (including 5th place in the Taihape A&P Show Open final), and the World championships in Le Dorat.
It was just five days after Smith’s ewes record three years ago that Ivan Scott added the nine-hour lambs record to the eight-hour record he had set during one of his many seasons in New Zealand.
But the 2016 record was a close call, Scott adding just one to the previous mark of New Zealand gun Dion King who, as a reigning New Zealand Golden Shears Open champion, shore a nine-hour day of 866 lambs in a King Country woolshed in January 2007.
To break the record, Connor requires a pace quicker than 37.37 seconds a lamb and 96.33 lambs an hour throughout the day, caught, shorn and dispatched.
The record spans the 12 hours from 5am to 5pm, with hour-long breaks for breakfast and lunch and half-hour breaks for morning and afternoon tea.
Scott was credited with run tallies of 193 for the first two hours to breakfast, and succeeding 1hr 45min run tallies of 170, 169, 169 and 166, but could have had more, having actually shorn 196 in the first run only to have three rejected by judges appointed by the New Zealand-based World Sheep Shearing Records Society.
An international panel of Australian officials Mike Henderson and Mark Baldwin and Welshmen Martyn David and Arwyn Jones will judge Saturday’s event, which will be preceded on Friday by a sample shear of 20 lambs which must average at least 0.9kg of wool per lamb for the record bid to be allowed to go ahead.
Originally planned as a British record attempt, the recent decision to tackle the World mark immediately upped the ante, including a $US2500 fee to the World records society and the need for more sponsors to meet other costs.
They include the British National Farmers Union, the Royal Three Counties Show, shearing gear giant Heiniger, New Zealand shearing contractor Shane Ratima, for whom Connor has worked in the Central North Island. Others are Peter Haines Engineers, Laurence Pierce Wool, Sweetpea Luxury Toilets, Rappa, Bob Towfield, Precision Hydration, Hook Norton Vets, Can-am, Mole Valley Vets, Rugby Farmers Market, G Dormond and Son, W Nicholls Ag Services, and Stuart Nicholls Waste Disposal.