John had always been really supportive from my early racing days with Portsmouth Cycling Club and only until recently was still helping me every Friday with P.S.o.C.R. and i-Team events.'Big John' was one of the 10 founding members of i-Team and completely got the idea of a cycling club with a focus on providing access to quality coaching.
It was John who first encouraged me to become a coach with his Portsmouth School of Cycle Racing and attend one of the first British Cycling 'Club Coach' courses. Back then The British Cycling Coaching Program was still in it's infancy, and at that time was arguably some way behind the Association of British Cycling Coaches, with whom John had been a Senior Coach for over 20 years.
John had been a useful sprinter in his 20's and he loved the sport and loved to help others, and he had been giving up his time on Friday nights to provide local cyclists with access to coaching since the 1970's. Along with Jack Smith, he was instrumental in successes of Portsmouth Cycling Club, (which by then had absorbed PSoCR,) with riders such as Jim Langmead, Peter McGowan, Tony Mayer and of course his son, i-Team.cc club president, Rob Hayles
Above: John raced at The Mountbatten Centre when track cycling was in it's heyday in the 1950's when it was not unusual to have several 1000 spectators at a meeting
After seeing Rob become one of the best track cyclists this country has ever seen, John started to become increasingly frustrated with the demise of fixed wheel-track cycling generally and the lack of opportunities for youth cycling in the Porstmouth area. Disheartened at the lack of interest, he was seriously considering closing up shop.
I remember one rainy Friday night back in November 2002, after we'd had zero takers for the evening coaching session, we popped back to John's house to console ourselves by opening a few glasses of vino.
By the end of the evening, 2 things had happened:
- I had decided that the only way forward was to start anew, from scratch, and see what could be done with a new bunch of new cyclists, and a fresh approach to what a cycling club could offer - and...
- John had recounted many stories from his days as a professional wrestler and I would never see him in the same light again!
Above: John loved to be involved - he was renowned for being incredibly strong and it looks like he may have given Steve an extra big push judging by the smile on his face!
Most people who know John had a 'Big John' story - just at the point you thought you knew him well, he'd amaze you with some anecdote you'd never heard before. My favourite was when he casually announced that in the first Star Wars movie, Dave Prowse, who played Darth Vader, had forgotten his (massive) shoes. A quick call was made to his manager, who rang John, knowing he had the same size feet as Dave. John then drove to the set and the result was that in some of the movie scenes, Darth Vader is wearing 'Killer Kowalski's' wrestling boots.
If you have any stories of your own, please share them with me and I'll add them to this article as a tribute
I owe him a lot and this article is a little token of my thanks to him - R.i.P.
Below: Most people know Big John as Rob Hayles' Dad but beneath the surface and you'll find a killer! - John 'Killer' Kowalski to be precise.
The following article appeared in The Portsmouth Evening News a few years back - the story and pictures are John's and are displayed here as 'fair use' under U.K. copyright law.