Five Cooktown youngsters have returned from the State Athletics Championships on Sunday with a place at the national championships, gold and silver medals, a raft of personal bests and elite-level experience.
Carradine Bally, Desmond Bowen, Maia Pensio, Grace Raleigh and Jessica Crowe, along with parents and supporters, travelled to Brisbane after qualifying for the Peninsula team earlier in the year.
Maia Pensio competed in several events, but it was in long jump that the 11-year-old shone, blitzing the field to bring home gold and a national championship qualifying jump.
Proud mother Liesl Pensio said her son would be travelling to Brisbane for a two-day training camp, followed by the national competition in Tasmania in November.
“It is an honour and will be such an experience for him,” Ms Pensio said.
“I’ve been stalking results from across the country and if Maia can jump 5.07m in six week’s time, that would place him in the top five in Australia.
“I know I can consistently get him up to 5m, and he has decided to pull out of all his other sports and concentrate on the nationals.”
Fellow Cooktown jumper Desmond Bowen smashed his own personal best by more than 60cm to bring home silver in long jump.
“He was incredible, he jumped 5.71m and his previous personal best was 5.05m,” Ms Pensio said.
“He also cleared 1.58m in high jump, which is another personal best for him and he really held his own in that event, with only five jumpers left after he got knocked out of the competition.
“Desmond’s dad came down to watch and that was a really beautiful moment watching him congratulate Desmond on his long jump medal.”
Jessica put in a courageous effort in long jump, 100m and the relay, but Ms Pensio said the pressure of the competition got to the young athlete, who didn’t achieve a personal best.
Grace Raleigh started off with a stellar 4.15m jump in long jump, but unfortunately fouled her next two jumps and didn’t achieve a place.
Bad luck played into a 12th place in the 100m sprint for Cooktown’s final team member, Carradine Bally, who fell off the blocks at the start.
“But he ran an incredible 200m race in 24.88 seconds, which was a huge personal best for him and he qualified 8th fastest for the semi-finals,” Ms Pensio said.
“He was in the fastest heat and then qualified 7th fastest for the final as well, and was the only Peninsula team boy to make it to the final.”
Unfortunately the speedster had to pull out of the final race after a medical episode.
Ms Pensio said the State-level competition was a huge learning curve for the whole Cooktown team, particularly those who hadn’t attended before.
“It’s always a tough experience, especially for the other kids who hadn’t been before,” she said.
“It’s very hard when we train on dirt or grass, adjusting to a proper track, as well as the pressure of the high level of competition and the lack of professional coaching for our athletes.”
Ms Pensio, who re-started the Cooktown Little Athletics Club two years ago, has been trying to remedy the lack of athletics coaching in the community, and said the volunteers at the club had been instrumental in getting the team to Brisbane.
“People try to give me credit, but it’s not me, it’s every single person and it truly has been a village that has helped these children have these opportunities,” she said.
“Without the support of the community, sponsors, their parents and other families, like Jess and Dave Chung who trained the kids when I couldn’t and were at every training session to support them, we couldn’t have gotten the team down to Brisbane for this experience.”