Back in July Bedford and County AC’s Gracie Wall won gold in the Under 15 Girls High Jump at the English Schools Championships. It wasn’t easy. The Under 15 competition covers school years eight and nine. Of the twenty-one girls who were selected by their counties, only two were year eights. One of them finished last. The other was Gracie. As the competition progressed, and the heights went up, one-by-one the other jumpers dislodged the bar. Gracie kept on clearing it. At 1 metre 62 centimetres there were still seven athletes in it. Three failed to clear that height. Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium was buzzing. Amongst the Bedfordshire and Luton team, the excitement was growing. Could Gracie do it? The bar was raised to 1.65. She failed in her first attempt. Lucy Fellows went clear. Gracie nailed it on her second. The others didn’t make it. The bar was now at 1.68. There were only two athletes left. Gracie would need a PB to win. Gracie and Lucy both tried and failed twice at the new height. “I knew she would win on countback if we both failed 168cm,” says Gracie. “This was a new height for me and well above my ‘eye line’, which was quite intimidating.” Gracie held her nerve to clear the bar on her third and final attempt. The other girl failed. Gracie had won, setting a new PB into the bargain. In the stands, the Bedfordshire and Luton team were euphoric.
“My coach has taught me to really believe in myself and I did to clear that height,” Gracie says. She is coached at Bedford and County by Barry Johnson. He has not only taught her the technical side of high jumping, but also worked hard on her strength and conditioning. “Plus self-belief and how to be quite single-minded,” which is evident in her extreme level of focus when competing. Gracie says that other athletes at the club, as well as the coaches, physios and other volunteers have made it, “an incredibly friendly and enjoyable environment to train and improve as they always offer encouragement and support. After English schools, I couldn’t believe how many other coaches, athletes and parents knew what happened and the fact they were all coming over to say well done. I really felt part of a fantastic club environment.” Gracie mentions the part played by her schools. “My ex school PE teacher [at Etonbury], Mr Bodger, saw I could jump quite high and arranged for me to meet and join in with Barry Johnson and I really appreciate that.” Her current school, Samuel Whitbread, is also “incredibly supportive”. And she points to the part played by her mum and dad. “My parents give up a lot of their own time to make sure I can travel and train most days of the week and will always be there at competitions with me – all over the country.”
Although the English Schools High Jump victory was the highlight of her season, it wasn’t the only success. She also qualified for the English Schools Combined Events Championships, which were held in Exeter in September. And she came home with a PB in the pentathlon, finishing fourteenth of the forty-one competitors.
Not that the season was entirely plain sailing. No season ever is. There were some lows as well as highs. She was disappointed to finish outside of the medals in the England Athletics U15 / U17 Championships, and she felt she could have done better than bronze at the South of England Championships. “My heights were well below my PB,” she says. Gracie is now in winter training mode. Her priorities are, “to keep enjoying myself and stay fit and healthy. I am really keen to win National indoors and Outdoors high jump and retain my high jump title at English Schools. I will again compete in multi events and want to medal in the final. My aim for the next few years,” she says, “is to keep learning and improving and be the best athlete and person that I can be. I know what this will take and the commitments and sacrifices needed, and I will work hard to achieve this.”
Everybody at Bedford and County will be willing Gracie on.