It’s mission accomplished for happy hurdler Heather

SIXTH OF THE BEST -- Heather Cooke, who starred at the English Schools' Championships at Gateshead, finishing sixth.
SIXTH OF THE BEST -- Heather Cooke, who starred at the English Schools' Championships at Gateshead, finishing sixth.

Mission accomplished was the verdict of teenage Gainsborough athlete Heather Cooke after she achieved her goals at the English Schools’ Championships.

Just qualifying for the prestigious championships, which is the fourth largest track and field event of its kind in the world, was the main aim for 17-year-old Heather. And despite a nagging hamstring injury that meant she couldn’t train properly for seven weeks, she squeezed in by achieving the time required for the 400m hurdles at her last attempt.

Then when she got to the Gateshead International Stadium for the championships, Heather exceeded all expectations, especially as she is only in her initial year of U20 competition and was running in the senior girls’ category for the first time.

In her heat, she clocked a personal-best (PB) time of 65.13 seconds, shaving 0.52 seconds off her previous record. And although she just missed out on third place, she still qualified for the final as a fastest loser, and finished a very creditable sixth in the same time.

Delighted dad Gary said: “Heather was delighted with these performances, especially as her pre-season target of getting to the final had been achieved.

“She is now ranked 18th in the UK and 13th in England over 400m in her U20 age group. Her chief events for 2015 have now taken place and she will just possibly compete in a few open events to see if she can improve her best time.

“Then the work will start again in training to put things in place for what will hopefully be an injury free and successful 2016 campaign.”

The English Schools’ event, which dates back to 1925, has been the launchpad for the careers of most of the country’s leading athletes over the years. To be eligible to compete, students must attain a certain standard, and Heather faced a nervewracking preparation as she fought back from her injury.

Five times, she tried to break the target of 66 seconds to make her eligible -- and finally, to her huge relief and joy, she managed it in the U20 Northern Championships in Manchester, posting what was then a PB of 65.65.

It was enough to earn her a place in the Leicestershire squad, for whom she raced because she now goes to Loughborough College, where she is studying for her A-levels. “All her hard work, especially while injured, paid off, said Gary. “It was a nice reward.”