BLACKBURN Harriers’ Grace Handley was East Lancashire’s sole medallist at the Northern Cross Country Championships on Saturday as she continued to grow her reputation with a second place finish.
Handley’s silver medal in the under 15s championships helped her team to a creditable fifth place at Knowsley Safari Park, despite being without Elizabeth Greenwood who missed out with a heel injury.
Handley started steadily in the tough snow-covered terrain but began to move through the field and into second place after 600m, although the leader had already built up a healthy advantage.
Handley was tracked all the way by Katie Whiteoak of Stockport Harriers but with 200 metres to go she managed to find a little extra to open up a small gap and take silver.
Handley joined Harriers from Preston at the end of November 2011. She had run for Lancashire at the Inter Counties as an under 13 that year.
She has since won the 2011/2012 Mid Lancs championships, claimed bronze in the English Uphill Fells Championships, picked up a silver medal in the 2012 English Schools Fell Championships and finished runner up in the Red Rose Cross Country under 15 league.
Richard Taylor, who coaches the girls endurance group at Harriers along with George Davies and George Woodburn, was full of praise for Handley’s most recent performance.
He said: “Grace has been a pleasure to work with since she came to join Blackburn Harriers. She is part of a very good squad of girls that has built up over a few years now.
“She has a focused and mature approach to her training and racing while maintaining the fun element to her running that is needed to keep going on the cold, wet and windy nights we encounter at our Witton training sessions.
“Her run at the Northerns on Saturday was a great performance. It showed a good racing brain and growing confidence from her recent results.
“Her silver medal is well deserved for the work that she has put in, whatever the weather.”
Fellow coach and club secretary Davies, added: “Grace is a joy to have in the club.
“She comes to training every time, rain, hail or shine with a smile on her face and always completes her session with another smile on her face.
“Typical of Grace in her response to being congratulated, the day after winning a silver medal in in utterly atrocious conditions was ‘I really enjoyed that and wished I could do it again today’.
“That comment typifies Grace, a commitment to train hard, race hard and above all a real joy in participating in athletics.
“Like the other girls in her training group she shows absolute support and commitment to the other athletes and sees herself very much as part of a team.
“While she has earned, deservedly, individual success, her smile after winning the team bronze medal in the Northern Road Relays at Leigh was as wide as ever.
“Her infectiousness rubs off on the other athletes and indeed the coaches who all believe that she has a very bright future ahed of her in junior and ultimately senior athletics.”
Her Harriers teammates Deni Impett, Rhiannon Wickham and Phoebe Howe also performed well as the team secured a top five finish on the day.
Impett was the next Harrier home in 25th with Wickham 55th and Howe 67th.
Rossendale Harriers’ Eleanor Solomon also ran well to finish just outside the top 100 in 106th.