Celebrating our unsung heroes in the West Midlands

It’s that time of year again, where we shine the spotlight on the unsung heroes of our sport. Our inspirational volunteers, who give their time, commitment and incredible energy week in and out.

With 9 regional awards ceremonies, and 8 awards categories, it’s an amazing celebration of the people across our sport. Last night the ceremony took place in Warwickshire; a fantastic evening, celebrating volunteers across the region who have made outstanding contributions to athletics and running.

Award categories…

  • Coach of the year
  • Official of the year
  • Athletics or Running Club of the year
  • Run Together Group
  • Run Together Leader
  • Services to Athletics or Running
  • Volunteer of the year
  • Young volunteer of the year

Drum roll… and the winners are…

Coach of the year

Tracy Bathers: Tracy is highly respected in athletics circles in Oswestry and across Shropshire. She became head coach for Oswestry Olympians Juniors in 2008 and took on increasing responsibilities for coaching and managing, at a time crucial to the survival of the club. The junior section is now so popular that there is a waiting list for membership. Over the last 7 years Tracy has also become a coach and manager to Shropshire junior teams for cross country, sports hall and track & field.

Tracy runs two very popular weekly club sessions, alongside weekend commitments to county teams. She excels with children; all are treated equally irrespective of talent. She is extremely effective working with those whose difficulties present additional challenges in club situations. Tracy develops a sense of responsibility in all children, inspiring them as well as parental volunteers and club coaches. She achieves all this alongside her family commitments and a full-time job!

Tracy deserves national recognition for the athletic and social gains of hundreds of children, for over 15 years commitment. She develops them from attending training to competing at league, county and national level. Her approach is inclusive, valuing everyone equally, irrespective of talent, background or how they have performed, she builds confidence and self-belief in all.

Tracy’s selfless commitment and qualities have inspired many parents to take up various athletics roles. She fulfils numerous tasks behind the scenes too, mentoring youngsters, ordering and storing equipment, planning sessions, booking facilities, completing entries, advising parents on competitions, and takes it all in her stride.

As a coach and junior co-ordinator, Tracy is an outstanding ambassador for the club, county and athletics. The county schools’ AA secretary describes her as a real gem, someone who makes athletics happen for so many people.

Official of the year

Annette Brown: Annette is one of the most inspirational members of our club (Solihull & Small Heath AC). Not only is she a very good and experienced field judge, she is also the club Officials Secretary, Promotions Secretary, Facilities Co-ordinator, Training Officer and even finds time to make the butties when we host a meeting. Annette helped me gain my officials accreditation two years ago and has continued to support me as I learn the ropes of what makes a good official. She encouraged me to become a committee member and be more involved in the club too. She also took my daughter under her wing, mentored her and helped her to gain her level 1 field judge accreditation.

Annette spends so much time doing things for the club, she's always busy contacting or speaking to people regarding athletics or the club. It's not unusual to receive an email regarding something athletic based either late at night or early morning, generally when most people are asleep! Annette has a very active social life, she's chair and committee member for a music group, she also invigilates for exam boards – quite frankly I don't know how she fits it all in! All of this on top of her family commitments. I've not been actively involved in athletics for long, however, one thing I worked out very quickly, is that Annette is the glue that holds our club together, without her we would all have some very big shoes to fill!

Athletics or Running Club of the year

Wolverhampton & Bilston: Wolves and Bilston's history stems back to 1914, but has operated in its modern form since 1967. Wolverhampton and Bilston are the biggest Track & Field club in the black country and have embedded itself as a hub of activity in the local area. The club has a strong history of delivering top quality athletes, including Pete Radford, Kathy Cook and Don Holliday. The club has strong links to Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and many local schools, providing satellite club activity, both within schools and at Aldersley, to increase participation within the club and the sport.

Coaches and club leaders continuously engage in CPD, in order to write performance pathways and training plans for athletes, that incorporate training schedules as well as competition to motivate athletes to reach their potential. The club is totally inclusive in nature and welcomes participants of all backgrounds and abilities to get involved and take part.

Wolverhampton and Bilston should win club of the year because they continually deliver high quality training environments and offerings for an ever-growing club. Every coach, official, committee member and volunteer give way beyond expectation. Many work at home to put together new and bespoke training plans together for athletes, and also organise lots of social events outside of training sessions, to promote and encourage friendship, community and camaraderie amongst members. Coaches, leaders and volunteers are committed to ongoing development of the club. I’m honoured to be a volunteer and member and believe they are well deserving of this award.

RunTogether Group

Lickey End Striders: Lickey End Striders is a RunTogether group that meets twice a week in Lickey End, Bromsgrove. The group is celebrating its 4th Birthday this week, and four years down the line the group and community continues to grow in numbers and strength all of the time. It’s a friendly, inclusive and supportive group for people of Bromsgrove and surrounding communities and has members from the age of 12 to beyond retirement.

The group is run by an England Athletics coach, Dylan Gould, and supported by five run leaders. Leaders that started out as runners from within the group, who have developed and gone on to complete the Leader in Running Fitness qualification. The group also supports visually impaired runners and has guide runners at all sessions.

In conjunction with the local council, Lickey End Striders offer Couch to 5K sessions for beginners and those that receive social prescribing to undertake activity. The group continues to grow and offers additional sessions, and further opportunities for the new leaders to develop skills. Despite growth and change, the groups friendly and welcoming approach remains central, welcoming new members of all experiences and abilities with open arms.

The group has been very active at local running events this year, including supporting with volunteers at Bloodwise Charity 5 and 10k. Fundraising for local homeless charities and there has been focus on health and well-being with support of two mental health ambassadors, delivering #RunAndTalk sessions for pupils undertaking exams, and to help relieve stress and improve mental wellbeing, which have been a great success.

Lickey End Striders deserve this award as an active and ever expanding RunTogether group, who’s sessions are heavily promoted and celebrated on social media. Dylan was lucky to be nominated and recognised as Run Leader of the Year last year, and this would be an incredible achievement and honour for leaders and members, to be recognised this year for being part of this fantastic group and community too.

RunTogether Leader

Mark Jeffery: Mark is everything you could ask for in a Run Leader. He’s enthusiastic, friendly, supportive at all times, encouraging all to progress and do their best. He is committed and dedicated, not only to the RunTogether group, but to help each and every one of us along our individual journey.

He has introduced #RunAndTalk sessions to encourage people to talk freely, forming close friendships and support for each other. He has created a RunTogether family in Baswich and the surrounding area, a network of support for everyone in the community.

Mark set up the group in September 2018, to encourage local people to exercise and get fit. From the initial meeting in a local pub, the group has grown beyond expectation, with a Couch to 5k group on a Monday, a 5k group on a Tuesday and an up to 10k group on a Thursday – with almost 200 members spread over the 3 groups! Mark's dedication, support and encouragement to the group is second to none and he is truly an inspiration to us all.

Mark deserves this award and recognition for his efforts and dedication, to improve the health and well-being of people in our community, physically, mentally and emotionally, he has helped and supported so many. He has taken hundreds of complete novices and non-runners and helped them to reach running goals they didn't think we're possible.

Services to Athletics or Running

Geoff James: Geoff, of Birchfield Harriers, has 65 years in the sport as both a regional level athlete and coach. Team management responsibilities have been combined with his being Midlands Staff Endurance Coach in the 1970s. He coached Mary Stewart to a Commonwealth Games gold medal!

Geoff was an endurance coach for the British Athletics team in international matches back in the late 1970’s and as recently as 2015. After the turn of the millennium, he became Midlands area coach mentor. Athletes he has coached have stayed in the sport, either as coaches, officials or administrators. He’s worked with athletes from all backgrounds and from countries as diverse as Italy to South Africa. He’s supported athletes from low income backgrounds and coached disability athletes, most notably, John Wassell, who represented Team GB in 1969.

Geoff is a man who is truly athlete centred, inspirational, and with so many reasons why he deserves this award, some of which I have summarised below:

  • Longevity – Geoff has been active in the sport for no less than 65 years.
  • Diversification of role – Geoff has been athlete, coach, mentor, coach educator, team manager and administrator.
  • Embracing diversity – he’s worked with athletes of all abilities and backgrounds.
  • Resilience – he has remained active despite being treated for cancer several years ago. When roles which he held have been terminated, he’s seen this as an opportunity to make a contribution elsewhere, for example writing coaching articles for national magazines.
  • Adaptability – he is highly competent in his use of social media and uses this to mentor a coach based in Uganda, who’s athlete has just run a qualifying time for the Doha World Championships later this summer.

Volunteer of the year

Rachel Gould: Rachel was nominated due to her exceptional volunteering within the running community, from Couch to 5K through to Ultra, Rachel can be found organising, encouraging and motivating others.

She regularly volunteers with Lickey End Striders and we see her as the magic that makes the group shine. Her help with checking runners in with the app and registrations is invaluable, giving the run leaders chance brief and carry out introductions with runners, particularly newcomers. Rachel also helps out driving the support van on longer runs, carrying welcome jelly babies and water for all. Rachel is becoming well known on the Midlands race network, as a valuable volunteer at races and local events organised by Ultra event companies, who will often help with registrations before heading off to checkpoints, where her kind nature and nursing experience is so greatly appreciated. She’s also an enthusiastic volunteer at Arrow Valley parkrun and recently became a regional ambassador, volunteering for them locally and nationally, and now manages a team of volunteers.

Rachel also qualified as a Guide Runner to support people with a visual impairment, this along with her nursing background is such a great help to Lickey End Striders and runners in the community needing support. There are so many ways Rachel supports runners; she is an inspiration, giving her time and commitment which is so greatly appreciated. The remarkable thing is that Rachel isn't really a runner herself, although she will accompany walkers on the Couch to 5K, she simply loves being part of the running community, helping however she can and seeing goals and milestones being achieved.

Young volunteer

Tom Gould: Tom shows a growing enthusiasm, passion and commitment for athletics and running, demonstrated in his involvements with three clubs, a regional council and the youth panel. In a challenge to develop himself and his awareness, he volunteers his time on National Young Leader Camps for young people with a visual impairment. Expanding his depth and breadth of athletics knowledge, skills and experience, Tom has completed his Athletics Coach course and is qualifying in other disciplines as an official. Utilising his skills, he instigated a new Run, Jump, Throw group to promote best practice in addressing the early specialisation issues in a club, by plugging a much-needed training gap between juniors and seniors. In this, he is actively supporting other trainee coaches on their coaching journey. Beyond that, Tom has been essential in the success of the pilot of an Athletics Leader Development Centre, by running sessions on key skills, helping mentor and develop other young volunteers in the process.

There isn’t any young volunteer in the region that dedicates more of their time or effort to athletics and running than Tom. He has been instrumental on a number of fronts, from canvasing the views of young people on the youth panel and regional council, to developing the sport on the ground through initiatives like the ALDC and RJT groups, to sharing opportunities with his peers. Without Tom’s presence and perseverance there would not have been any of those initiatives in motion.

He tries to support anybody and everybody and is the first to raise his hand if anyone needs assistance – if he can help, he will. He goes above and beyond in all that he does and should be considered a beacon of light and best practice in athletics. He’s an inspiration to others and proves that young leaders breed other young leaders. Athletics would most certainly be in a better place if we had more people like him around.

Chris Jones, England Athletics CEO, said:

“Our sport of athletics and running is built on the selfless and invaluable contribution that our amazing volunteers make. Through our Regional Volunteer Awards, we can put our volunteers in the spotlight, and celebrate the fantastic work that they do in their communities’, week in and out. We hope that the stories of our award winners and nominees can also inspire other people to get involved in our great sport.

“Congratulations and well done to all our award winners and finalists; and thank you to all volunteers across our sport. It can’t happen without you.”

Runners up

Congratulations also to the regions runners up:

Coach: Glenn Francke
Official: Graham Lamb
Club: Malvern Buzzards
RT Group: Baswich Run4Fun
RT Leader: Martin Leek
Services to Athletics and Running: Bob Hughes
Volunteer: Rick Garcia
Young Volunteer: Talitha Scoltock-Daftery

More about our Volunteer Awards

Throughout September and early October, we’re hosting nine regional awards ceremonies across England. Every winner of a Regional Volunteer Award is then put forward to an external panel who will select the finalists for the prestigious National Volunteer Awards. Finalists are then invited to attend the England Athletics National Volunteer Awards & Hall of Fame Ceremony hosted on Saturday 12 October at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole. An event that honours volunteers from across England and inducts some of the stars of athletics and running into the England Athletics’ Hall of Fame. Since its launch in 2008, Hall of Fame inductees have included Sir Roger Bannister, Lord Sebastian Coe, Paula Radcliffe MBE and Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Volunteering in our sport

Volunteering can be extremely rewarding, sharing your knowledge and passion with others to get more people into and enjoying our sport. There are lots of ways that you can get involved, head over to our website to find out more:

Volunteering in athletics and running