By COLEY HARVEY - firstname.lastname@example.org
For most teenagers, a week of summer camp might sound like a bad idea.
Tell them the camp forces them to run miles and miles each day, and something just short of a small-scale riot might break out at home.
But Grace Tinkey is no ordinary teen.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” the rising FPD sophomore said from a running camp in North Carolina earlier this week. “It’s a very structured program where they assign everyone into groups designed on what their ability is.”
What is her ability level?
Her quiet, humble modesty won’t allow to answer that question, but after the display of athletic prowess she has shown the past two years, it is clear her ability hovers somewhere between through-the-roof high and sky-scraping stratospheric.
A two-time All-Middle Georgia Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, Tinkey hasn’t just excelled at her craft in the high school ranks. She has taken them out of state — and shined, too.
“I went and got a chance to go watch her at the New Balance Nationals (in Greensboro, N.C.) earlier this summer, and it’s amazing to see her talent compared to all these kids from other states,” FPD girls cross country coach April Willingham Cassell said. “It’s an event on a larger scale, and she fit in just fine.
“I don’t think she’s hit her peak yet. She’s headed that way, though.”
Tinkey, The Telegraph’s Girls Athlete of the Year, finished 13th in the June event.
While the small-in-stature, long-in-stride distance runner may be far from the top of her personal Mt. Everest, her efforts the past year have been enough to name her The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia girls athlete of the year.
In track, she went undefeated in the 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters and currently holds the GISA 3,200 state record. That is all in addition to winning state championships in both events.
Along with competing in the New Balance Nationals this summer, Tinkey has taken her talents to other major running competitions in the past year.
In November, she qualified for the Foot Locker Southeast Regional in North Carolina, where she finished 10th, running a 17:23 on the 3.1-mile course. Finishing in the top 10 qualified her for the national Foot Locker race, held in San Diego less than a month later.
“It was an amazing experience,” Tinkey said. “I didn’t run as fast in San Diego as I did at regionals, but just being there was awesome.”
She said she felt she performed her best during the regionals, in part, because she had trained specifically for the less hilly North Carolina course. Somewhat surprised she made it to the national event, she wasn’t fully equipped for the steeper California course, she said.
This fall, she should have plenty of practice training for hills as FPD makes the highly publicized switch from the GISA to the GHSA. The GHSA state championship cross country course — one that hosts some three meets during the course of a high school season — in Carrollton features a prominent loop of hills before culminating in a long downhill finish.
“Really, we’re super excited (about this switch),” Tinkey said. “The thing about it is that we don’t know how it’s going to be going up against some of these other, bigger schools. Being in the GISA, because we’re so small, our whole high school, middle school years, we’ve been used to facing the same girls and knowing how they run and how they compete. It’s really great to go to meets and know everybody’s faces.”
While the hills at Carrollton will be a concern, just trying to fit in with the larger GHSA schools will be high on the priority list, too.
“She’s never really been pushed in the GISA,” Cassell said. “Often in races, she’ll be the only girl in the (17-minute range), or there will be two or tree. I know we’ll be competing at the A level, but in AAAAA schools, they have a few girls on the team who can run in the 17s.”
Tinkey, who sometimes trains with FPD’s boys runners or trains separately because of her blinding pace, certainly won’t be the only one buoying the Vikings’ cross country and track teams next season. With a good group of rising sophomores and freshmen, FPD’s youth should have an impact.
“We push each other hard in practice, and we’ve all got to have that positive outlook because when things get hard, we need to know how to push through,” Tinkey said.
One of the veterans who Tinkey looked up to and who helped push her during her time at FPD was recently graduated star Ashley Cope. Cope is headed to Samford on scholarship.
A contributor since her freshman year, Cope was a routine top-5 finisher and provided a key voice of leadership.
“Even in the offseason, she was always working out and running and just always was giving them someone to look up to,” Cassell said. “Now, they see all that pay off, and for Grace especially to see all the work Ashley put in and how it’s worked out for her, that’s a good mentor for her to follow.”
Cope, Cassell and the rest of her teammates aren’t the only ones to thank for her success, Tinkey said. For her, faith plays a major role in her focus.
“I have to also say, none of this would have happened without God,” Tinkey said.
Her name, as well as those of her siblings, Faith and Christian, was given as a testament to the importance her family places on religion and spirituality.
“There are a lot of times where (in running) you may feel down or don’t think you can accomplish things, but you’ve just got to trust Him because He’s always going to get you through those ups and downs,” Tinkey said. “God is the main factor.”