English shearer Stu Connor is mounting possibly the bravest of world record tilts on Saturday as he aims to beat 867 lambs in nine hours
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 work-day PB 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 aged 3 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 Team Grace fundraisers have already contributed over £55,000 (about $NZ100,000) via the JustGiving page.
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.
Connor has said Grace loved every minute of watching him shear "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 fifth place in the Taihape A&P Show open final), and the world championships in Le Dorat.
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.
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.