Willesden kids welcome in the TVH family!
PUBLISHED: 14:00 18 June 2008 | UPDATED: 13:17 24 August 2010
By Ben Kosky AS their name implies, Thames Valley Harriers are a club who have always spread their net across a reasonably wide area. But their foray into the borough of Brent looks set to bear fruit – the club have already begun to realise the benefits o
By Ben Kosky
AS their name implies, Thames Valley Harriers are a club who have always spread their net across a reasonably wide area.
But their foray into the borough of Brent looks set to bear fruit - the club have already begun to realise the benefits of a link-up with the successful Willesden junior athletics squad.
Since the refurbished Willesden Sports Centre opened in 2007, former Commonwealth bronze medallist Connie Henry has helped to build up an ever-increasing group of youngsters who train there three times a week.
The squad recently collected 10 medals at the Middlesex Championships and Henry, a former triple jumper, is optimistic that there is much more to come.
"At first I didn't have club support, but since Thames Valley Harriers have come in, there's more organisation and it's helped me take this on tenfold," she told the Times.
"The club's junior league performances have doubled because of the kids we've been sending them and they're also competing in county, regional and national championships.
"We've taken children off the streets who didn't have spikes when they first came here just over a year ago - now we've got Middlesex champions. They had no athletic background, but a lot of street attitude.
"It was all 'tie your laces up, take your hood off'. I had a coach who left - he was used to dealing with elite athletes and he couldn't handle this.
"The manners, the attitude and the way they carry themselves is great now - you wouldn't believe they were the same kids. That's so important in a social sense."
Sprinter Dymond Smith is one of those new county champions after she won a gold medal in the under-17 200m and silver in the 100m, while James Okeyemi matched that haul with a triple jump gold and long jump silver.
Six other athletes from Henry's group (Roushell Campbell, Rachael Nakaye, Moses Bawo, Confidence Lawson, Lumar Sylvester and Daniel Mahendrarajah) also picked up medals, an indication of how the programme continues to gather pace.
That is at least partly due to the calibre of coaches assembled by Henry - they include three Commonwealth gold medallists in sprinters Clarence Callender and Julian Golding, plus triple jump star Larry Achike.
"There's a real difference between somebody who's been to an international competition and won a gold medal telling you something, and somebody who's read it in a book," Henry insisted.
"Children can instinctively tell when somebody knows what they're talking about - they've seen the footage of Julian coming off the bend in Kuala Lumpur to win gold. You can't buy that intensity.
"We average 50 kids here for a session, so we may have to draft in more help. And the ratio of girls to boys here is phenomenal, because of the support we've had from the schools around here."
Three of those - Capital City Academy, Cardinal Hinsley School and the Convent of Jesus and Mary - have given financial, as well as moral support, to the scheme.
That enables their students to join coaching sessions for free, while the South Brent Community Coaching scheme provides extra opportunities for coaches to spread the message among other schools in Brent.
All this is music to the ears of TVH's Pat Fitzgerald, who was invited by Brent Council to help establish a bridge between the squad and regular club competition.
The retired distance coach, who now handles the group's administrative affairs, said: "We're also trying to work with volunteers in Brent, who can come in and learn skills that will enable them to move on as coaches as well.
"What we don't want to do is scar kids who perhaps feel they can't get to the top in athletics - but, with the international coaches we've got here, there are role models who can gain their confidence.
"We've now got two centres - at Willesden and Linford Christie Stadium - and we hope to be able to influence the surrounding boroughs that have no athletics facilities.
"Hopefully we can become one of the strongest clubs in London and with the support of England Athletics and Brent Council, eventually set up a performance centre at Willesden."
Anyone interested in joining the group, who train on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings, can call Willesden Sports Centre (020 8955 1120).
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