Grace Tinkey remembers when she first really noticed the difference between running cross country in the GISA and the GHSA. Tinkey is used to running against six or seven different teams in the GISA, and that was at a large meet. But when the FPD team traveled to Berry College for a GHSA meet, she was in for quite an awakening.
“We got there, and we found out there were 48 teams in the meet,” said Tinkey, who has been named The Telegraph’s Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year for the third year in a row. “We were all crammed up trying to get to the front, and I think every single one of our runners fell down in the first 100 meters. It was just ridiculous. We had never ever had that many teams at any meet before. We were having to jump over people that had fallen, and you start to panic a little bit because you don’t want to get behind.
“Then it seems like it’s almost a mass sprint to make up for lost time. It probably took me and Victoria (Coppage) a good five minutes to get up to the lead pack of runners.”
Tinkey was able to win the Berry race, as well as every other high school race she ran in the state of Georgia. She dominated the state meet winning by her usual comfortable margin and also takes great pride that FPD finished second in its very first GHSA state meet.
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“It was a great meet for us,” she said. “Victoria Coppage finished third at the state meet, and I think that is a great honor for a first year GHSA school like FPD to put two girls in the top three. Victoria has just improved so much over the last few years, and I really can’t wait to see how much faster she can get. She just had an amazing season. It was really a great year for the entire cross country program.”
Coppage also realizes the advantage that the entire team has because of Tinkey.
“I think we all see how hard Grace works every day, and we try to all work as hard as her while we are working on our own goals,” said Coppage, who is a junior. “Grace pushes me as does everyone else on the team. We are all able to work off of each other, and Grace is a big part of that.”
The hardest thing to remember about Tinkey is that she is still only a sophomore and can’t even drive by herself yet. She has qualified the past two years for the Foot Locker Nationals in California and improved to 15th this year after finishing 20th last year. This year’s finish earned her All-America honors.
“That was my goal for this year,” said Tinkey, who also enjoys reading and drawing. “When I finished the race, everyone was pretty sure I had finished 16th, which would have missed making All-American by one spot. It was just a big thrill when I found out I had actually made top 15. The Foot Locker Nationals is so awesome because I get to spend a few days with the best high school cross country runners in the nation and I learned so much every time I go.
“Hopefully I can qualify a few more times and continue to improve where I finish.”
Said FPD head coach April Cassell, “She is one of the best high school runners I have ever seen. She has an unbelievable work ethic and is very dedicated to the sport. The change to the GHSA did not bother her at all. She just went out and dominated.”
Tinkey, who is a straight A student, will shyly admit she is starting to get interest from more than 20 colleges but has no idea where she will end up.
“I think I will probably end up going somewhere away from Georgia,” Tinkey said. “A lot of my friends through Foot Locker and other races are going to some of the larger schools. I am hoping to be able to run for someone that can have a chance to do well at the NCAA championships. I feel like I still have a few years to make up my mind, but I have definitely started to think about it.”
The sport that started off as a social outing has ended up being much more for Tinkey.
“I started running because all my friends ran,” Tinkey said. “The more I kept going the better I got and then I started to alike it a lot more. I really owe my success to my parents and to all my coaches. The way I look at it is God has given me the gift to be able to run, and I just want to take full advantage of it.”
All-Middle Georgia Cross Country Team
Runner of the year: Grace Tinkey, FPD, 18:04.74.
Victoria Coppage, FPD, 19:36.12.
Anna Leigh Nix, Veterans, 19:37.42.
Tessa Patterson, Upson-Lee, 20:11.98.
Valerie McLure, Westfield, 20:19.81.
Taylor Harrington, Bleckley County, 20:29.96.
Caroline Mauldin, Warner Robins, 20:54.27.
Caroline Johnson, Mount de Sales, 20:54.31.
Jessica Smith, FPD, 21:05.93.
Astacia Watkins, Central, 21:09.04.
Abby Haynes, Mount de Sales, 21:10.92.
Abby Booth, Perry, 21:27.00.
Betsy Barrett, Mount de Sales, 21:24.53.
Katie Rose Alligood, Trinity Christian, 21:33.81.
Julie Thomas, Covenant, 21:47.16.
Danielle Ferro, FPD, 21:47.24.