Grace Tinkey, a freshman at FPD, has had quite a ride the past few years in the world of cross country competition.
After deciding to get serious about running during the summer before her eighth-grade year, she has dominated the GISA cross country scene, winning every meet she has competed in for the past two years. She is currently ranked the No. 1 high school cross country runner in the state and is one of a small group of girls in the state who has run a 3.1 mile course in less than 18 minutes.
For her efforts, Tinkey has been named the All-Middle Georgia girls cross country runner of the year.
“I liked running a lot, but I was really bad,” Tinkey said, describing herself when she started running in the sixth grade. “I think I finished like 98th in my first race. I was also swimming at the time and not really serious about either one of them. I started to get a little better in my seventh-grade year, and my coach, Joe McDaniel, really encouraged me to work on small goals that I could reach. That helped me a lot. We also got to practice with the varsity, and that helped motivate me.”
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According to FPD head coach April Willingham, it was the summer before Tinkey’s eight-grade year that was the turning point.
“You could tell then that she was going to be special,” Willingham said. “She worked very hard that summer and went from being a good runner to a great runner. When the cross country meets started, she was a driving force for our team. She had some competition with Kelly Conway from Deerfield-Windsor her eighth-grade year, but this season, she left the competition behind.”
At 5-foot-3 and around 94 pounds, Tinkey is smaller than most of the runners she competes against. But Willingham says Tinkey’s training and determination give her the edge.
“She has a competitive drive that only the very best runners have,” Willingham said. “You know that when Grace steps up to the line, she is going to be at her very best and will give you everything she has. She trains very hard, and she has the ability to always run her race. She is very prepared and always sticks to the game plan.”
The ability to run her own race was put to the test in November at the Foot Locker South Regionals. Tinkey’s goal was to finish in the top 10, which would allow her to go to San Diego to run in the Foot Locker Nationals.
After the first mile, Tinkey was in 25th place, but by the end of the race, she had moved all the way up to 10th. And at the national race last weekend, she finished 20th, one of the top finishes for a freshman.
Tinkey hopes to continue her cross country career throughout high school and into college and has already started to hear from colleges such as UCLA and Tennessee. Tinkey, a 4.0 student, will take a few weeks off from running during the holiday break and then get back to training.
She knows that FPD’s move to the GHSA next year will mean faster runners to compete against, and she is looking forward to the challenge.
“It was great at the Foot Locker races to run against girls that were faster than me,” Tinkey said. “Running for FPD is a lot of fun because it’s a team thing. I want to do well for my team. Hopefully, we can go to the GHSA and be in the running to win state next year.”
Runner of the Year: Grace Tinkey, FPD, 18:19.30
All-Middle Georgia Team
Megan Breitabach, Houston County, 19:05.19
Jenna Wesley, Spalding, 20:05.33
Jessica Smith, FPD, 20:35.10
Danielle Ferro, FPD, 20:37.80
Elizabeth Lacksen, Gatewood, 20:51.40
Tessa Patterson, Upson-Lee, 20:54.44
Maddie Anderskow, FPD, 20:59.90
Abby Haynes, Mount de Sales, 21:05.75
Carson De Mille, Mount de Sales, 21:15.50
Taylor Harrington, Bleckley County, 21:18.96
Allison Lones, CFCA, 21:20.40
Astacia Watkins, Central, 21:26.17
Kaitlyn Patterson, Mary Persons, 21:48.97
Caroline Stroud, FPD, 21:51.15
Kendall Cowart, Howard, 22:01.54
Honorable mentions (within two minutes of All-Middle Georgia team)
Bleckley County: Ivy Knight, Aubri Rush
Covenant: Julie Thomas
Crawford County: Olivia Traylor
FPD: Ashley Cope, Melissa Hash
Hpuston County: Ausharea Adams, Emily Brown, Sarah Pospisil
Mary Persons: Laura Becerril, Rachel Davis, Emily Robinson
Mount de Sales: Morgan Seneker
Spalding: Meg Ward
Stratford: Kate Bickley
Tattnall: Faren Harris, Ashleigh Owens
Toombs County: Lisa Espino, Kristin Flowers
Treutlen: Cassie McDonald
Trinity Christian: Katie-Rose Alligood, Tori Lord
Warner Robins: Alyssa Gissseman, Jaichelle Thomas
Westfield: Caroline Amos, Valerine McLure