Barnes RFC's 'Big Lift' takes centre stage

Joe Gray has been Barnes' head coach for the past two seasons
©Jonathan Knight

Joe Gray, the Barnes head coach, began our conversation by explaining the important reasons behind the club’s ‘1 Million Kilogram Lift’ challenge which will take place on Saturday.

“Sadly, Garry Garrett, father of first team player Jack, passed away due to Covid-19,” Gray told TRU. “Everyone is saddened by the loss as Garry was regularly at the games and he was a big part of this club. He was a top man so the club wanted to try and raise some money in his memory as well as support the NHS for the amazing work they’re doing.”

National League clubs know all about the strong sense of community and this initiative by Barnes just emphasises that. The idea for the ‘Big Lift’ was formulated by Jack, along with second team captain Adam Libbey, and the club have encouraged everyone associated with Barnes RFC to get involved in any way they can. “Whether it is a 500ml water bottle or even a beer that you are taking from the ground to above your head, you are still lifting some weight!” added Gray, who will be leading a club-wide lifting session on Barnes’ Instagram account on Saturday morning.

“We have got people throughout the day that are going to be keeping count on how much weight has been lifted so we have got several sessions so we can fit in as much as we can. We want everyone to also keep track of their own total too and for the millionth lift, it will be Jack and his mother that are going to break the boundary at the end of the day. It will be an amazing day for the club.”

Barnes had initially aimed to raise £10,000 but at the time of writing, they have already doubled that target with the total standing at over £20,300. The club have also been inundated with support from high profile figures in the game including Johnny Wilkinson, Jason Leonard and in particular, Saracens’ Jamie George as the England international was very close to Garry.

“It’s really snowballed,” said Gray. “Obviously, you’ve seen some of the videos from social media from current players and I have also been in contact with a few of my close friends like Chris Robshaw, Danny Care etc. Jamie George actually knew Garry so Jamie also asked around his friends which has been great to keep spreading the message and of course, Jamie is taking part in the lift as well.

“It’s amazing that people of that calibre take the time out of their day to put some time into doing the videos. If you’re in the minis or the junior ranks up to U19s, it goes such a long way to see your sport stars that you watch and look up to send a personal message to your club. Their support means a lot.”

This initiative by the West London side, which will start at 9am and run throughout Saturday, has gained some serious traction this week but for Gray, his support for the NHS has also included donating sports products to Harefield Hospital in London.

Gray, alongside wife Lottie, are co-founders of MyoMaster which provides high-quality recovery sports equipment to athletes but during this pandemic, the pair sent massage guns to the hospital to help staff relax and unwind between shifts.

“We know all the hard work the NHS are doing,” said Gray. “Actually, someone who had purchased one at a show got in contact and said the staff would love any we had so we thought we’d just send a bunch through.

“We got some amazing pictures back from the staff which we didn’t expect. We got a lovely message back of how it is helping them so we are really happy to help in the tiniest way that we have.”

Gray’s charitable work hasn’t stopped there, either. At the beginning of March, his father, Paul, sadly passed away after four-years of fighting bowel cancer. In tribute to his Dad, the Harlequins forward has been raising money and awareness for Bowel Cancer UK by completing 200 burpees everyday in less than 20 minutes during the remainder of lockdown. This week, Gray has also been announced as a patron for the charity and unsurprisingly, his work has received an overwhelming amount of support.

“I thought with April being Bowel Cancer Awareness month, I wanted to do something,” added Gray. “It is obviously something close to my heart so I thought I’d think of a challenge! I am terrible at burpees anyway and it is pretty tiring doing 200 everyday, but it is for a great cause and people have been tagging friends in posts and setting up little competitions which has been great to see!”

View this post on Instagram

We’re thrilled to announce @harlequins and England rugby player Joe Gray as our new Patron. It's such a fantastic way to end Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, which comes to a close today. Welcome on board @joe_gray2! ?? Joe’s dad Paul passed away in March after being diagnosed with #bowelcancer four years ago. He says: “Being a patron of Bowel Cancer UK is really special to me. My dad was diagnosed after he completed the bowel cancer screening test sent in the post when he turned 60. I want to raise awareness and funds to help stop people dying of bowel cancer.” Joe is currently being sponsored to do 200 updowns a day whilst the country is in lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. You can support Joe via the link in our profile.

A post shared by Bowel Cancer UK (@bowelcanceruk) on

Gray had set a target to raise £500 but similarly to the ‘Barnes Big Lift’, that total has been surpassed with ease since the 31-year-old launched his JustGiving page.

The commendable work which both Barnes and Gray are taking in part in makes rugby pale into insignificance during this unprecedented time, but the West London outfit will be plying their trade in National Two South next season.

Following the early conclusion of the campaign, Barnes finished the term in 12th place and Gray is looking forward to entering his third year with the club.

“In truth, it has been a frustrating season!” said Gray. “As National League rugby can be, you can have one of the best games of the season the week before and then a poor game against a team you are expected to do well against a week later!

“It is a great league and it is great to see that Barnes have stayed up again. It was tough to see the season finish early because we were coming into some games which we were really confident about, but we are safe for the second year in a row which the club has never done before.”

For now, the playing side of things has taken a back seat but all eyes will be on Barnes RFC on Saturday as they pay tribute to a club stalwart and raise money for the NHS.

“I absolutely love being a part of Barnes,” Gray adds. “As you can see behind this challenge, it is a proper club. Everyone cares about Barnes and how we can make it better and it is great to be a part of that. We have great bunch of lads, great coaches and everyone buys into the one club ethos so I really enjoy being part of the Barnes family.”

To donate to Barnes RFC’s big lift, please click on the link here

2019-20 National League 2 South Points Table