Morpeth Harriers and Athletic Club were at long last able to present their much-delayed Athlete of the Year Awards for 2019 last month despite the difficulties caused by lockdown.
Given at the NECAA Open Meeting at the KEVI track by club president Jim Alder MBE and sponsored by Reeves the Pension Specialists, the awards are chosen over the course of the year for the best three Young Athlete performances of each month, the winners going forward for consideration for the annual prize.
With a wide variety of stand-out regional and national performances by Young Athletes at the club, there were once more a number of leading contenders which made judgment as ever challenging.
In the end, the winner of the 2019 award was throws specialist Jessica Gardiner for a string of outstanding performances that have seen her gain national recognition after only a handful of years in the sport.
Beginning her throwing career under the watchful eye of her father - himself a Discus and Hammer thrower - in the fields of the Upper Coquet behind her family home in Rothbury, Jess soon took to the sport while at the same time playing rugby as an Under 12 at Alnwick RFC.
In her first year as an U/15, when she was still finding her feet in all four throws, she was already a winner in the North East Youth Development League for Discus. The following year, still U/15, she won a silver in the Scottish National Championships for Discus, was North East Counties Athletics Association Discus Champion and Northumberland Schools double champion for both Discus and Hammer, setting a new county Hammer record, as well as qualifying for the England Schools Championships.
Moving to the guidance of specialist coach Neil Ellerby in 2019 as an Under 17, Jess was a double Northumberland Schools champion at both Discus and Hammer, and placed 7th in the English Schools Championships for Discus. She was NECAA hammer Champion and once again topped the rankings for the NEYDL at both Discus and Hammer.
Representing Morpeth in the Senior Track and Field team, who participate in the North of England League Division, she not only won the 4kg Hammer when throwing the heavier weight for the first time competitively, but in the process managed to break the Senior club record. In 2019 her performances have seen her ranked in the top 20 nationally for her age in the Discus and in the top 5 for the Hammer.
Now a sixth former at Morpeth’s KEVI, Jess was recently accepted onto the England Athletics Youth Talent Programme (along with fellow Harrier Amy Lott), the start of a two year diploma with the England Athletics and GB pathway which will hopefully enable her to develop her potential to the next level with support from National event coaches and the wider England support staff structure.
Alongside this, she has somehow also found time to continue her rugby, captaining Alnwick Under 18s from number 8 or the second row, representing Northumberland for three consecutive seasons and being invited into the RFU North of England Centre of Excellence Development group.
Runner-up in the awards was sprinter and Javelin specialist Alice Geoghegan. Another youngster with a very impressive CV in 2019, Alice was a winner in her U/15 age category in the North East Counties Athletics Championships at Middlesbrough over 300m, won the Northumberland Schools County Championships and went on to take part in the New Balance English Schools’ Championships in Birmingham over the same distance. She was a winner in the Javelin in every NEYDL match in which she took part, again won the Northumberland Schools Championships for the implement, and was 2nd in the NECAA Championships. Coached by Dave Thomas, the RGS pupil continues to make tremendous progress in her first year as an U/17, despite the very challenging circumstances that currently affect the sport.
In third place was Ross Charlton. Charlton, who also attended KEVI High School, has been both with Morpeth Harriers from a young age, being guided in his running initially by the late Tony Ward and subsequently by veteran Harriers coach Mike Bateman. Turning out on a regular basis for the club throughout the year, among other achievements Ross was 14th in the Northern Counties Cross Country Championships at Pontefract where he led the club’s team to Gold medals and was 4th in the North East County Championships at Alnwick. Another consistently strong year for Ross, and not just in running, has now seen him accepted onto the University of Bath’s prestigious Modern Pentathlon course.
Nigel Reeves, owner of Reeves the Pension Specialists, said: "Reeves is delighted to sponsor Athlete of the Year Awards as club sponsor. Grassroots sport is something we’re passionate about and it’s great to be able to support such talented young athletes."
The club has confirmed the cancellation of all forthcoming events and training sessions as a result of the lockdown that came into effect at midnight today (5 November).
On Wednesday evening England Athletics published its response to the UK Government's nationwide Covid 19 restrictions. This guidance applies until at least 2 December.
Exercise is now only permitted with members of the same household or with one other person in a public space.
The immediate consequences for us as a club are the following:
Thanks to all in advance for your continued understanding and cooperation.