ONE of Shetland’s most energetic sports coaches is recovering from shock after being awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year Honours list.
Lerwick-born Mark Wylie has been given the BEM for “services to sport in the Shetland Isles and charity work abroad”.
The 47 year old started his coaching career as a teenager at the newly-opened Clickimin Leisure Complex in 1985, when he started teaching pre-school children a range of sports, notably trampolining and gymnastics.
As well as coaching Shetland girls Josie McCreadie and Karis Irvine to become national champions, he has turned gymnastics into one of the islands’ most popular sports.
Starting the local gymnastics club in 2005 after Shetland hosted the NatWest Island Games, in which gymnastics was a featured event, it now has more than 200 children taking part every week.
Since then he has brought international gymnast stars like Beth Tweddle to Shetland, won an award for services to the sport from Scottish Gymnastics three years ago and earlier this year was one of the Commonwealth Games baton bearers.
Wylie started his overseas charity work in 2008 with a trip to Zambia, where he brought a team of sports coaches and a pile of school and sporting equipment after raising almost £15,000 in Shetland.
He followed this trip up three years later to do similar work in schools and orphanages in Romania in 2011, and this year returned from a four week stint in Malawi, where the team brought much-needed medical supplies to local hospitals, batteries, wind up torches as well as school and sport equipment.
Speaking on Tuesday from his new home in Aberdeenshire, Wylie admitted one of his original motivations for the charity work was self interest.
“I love travel so I wasn’t just thinking about doing good for the children, it was a way for me to see places you wouldn’t normally see,” he said.
“Each trip was a big education for me and the rest of the team and we always came back appreciating all that we had in this country.
“In Africa the children had absolutely nothing except disease and poverty – no clothes, no shoes, no toys, yet they were happier than the children in the UK.
“It’s a different world, but it says something when the children have absolutely nothing but they are happier than us.”
Wylie had lived his entire life in Lerwick until six months ago, when he moved to Inverurie after his wife Jenny got a job with Aberdeenshire Council.
He has managed to find work at Inverurie’s Garioch Sports Centre, where he is introducing the same pre-school sports classes he introduced to Shetland 30 years ago.
Whether he will be able to replicate his charity work from the Scottish mainland remains to be seen, he said.
In Shetland he and his helpers managed to raise between £12,000 and £14,000 for each trip by packing bags at supermarkets, running raffles, holding fundraising meals at restaurants, winning donations from local companies and even doing a fancy dress pub crawl.
“The Shetland public are next to none when it comes to generosity, it’s much more difficult when you are elsewhere,” he said.
Wylie had been sworn to silence about his BEM since being told over a month ago, and said he was looking forward to being able to speak about it at last.
“I’m extremely humbled, shocked and seriously almost speechless,” he said. “It’s definitely not sunk in yet.”
He has no idea who nominated him for the award, but said he would like to thank them.