By David Krueger The Herald
Amy-Eloise Neale has been busy.
The Glacier Peak High School runner has been travelling around the world as she races towards the end of her prep athletic career and perhaps to the start of something much, much bigger.
Neale has qualified for her native Great Britain to compete in the IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships that will be held March 24 in Bydgoszcz, Poland. She qualified by finishing fourth at the World Cross Trials at Cofton Park in Birmingham, England.
“It was obviously difficult with the jet lag,” Neale said. “The conditions of the course were pretty bad. It was pretty muddy. But I’ve run in bad conditions before. It was a little stressful because I knew I was travelling halfway around the world to run a race to qualify for another one. It was stressful because I didn’t want to go all the way over there and not qualify.”
The top six runners qualified with Neale finishing fourth in the Junior Women’s division.
Frank Dauncey, who has been coaching Neale since she was in elementary school, sees this as a prime opportunity for the young runner. An assistant coach for the Glacier Peak cross country team, as well as a sprint and hurdles coach for the Grizzlies’ track team, Dauncey thinks Neale can make an even bigger name for herself with a strong showing at the Junior World Cross Country Championships.
But it won’t be easy.
“This is a great opportunity for somebody to measure themselves up with somebody who might have ran in the Olympics or World Championships,” Dauncey said. “This is big. This is the world stage. This is the top level.”
Neale departs for the race March 20 and arrives the next day, one day ahead of the British team. She wanted to get to Poland early to adjust to the time change. While incredibly excited, Neale isn’t sure how she’ll fare in the six-kilometer race.
“I’m definitely not expecting to win a world championship,” Neale said with a laugh. “But I guess my hope would be to run under 20 minutes. Run well, compared to my team and the U.S. team, so I can kind of gauge where I’m at. It’s definitely going to be a tough race. ? I’d love to be up in the top 20, but I have no idea how difficult that’s going to be.”
According to Dauncey, that would be quite an accomplishment.
“The kids who place in top 30-40 of these races, you’re going to see them somewhere else,” Dauncey said. “You’re going to see them in the Olympics or in world championships. This is where it begins for somebody who is like Amy-Eloise. (It) helps season you and get you ready. This is about as far at the top as you can get for her level.”
The race in Poland also is another step toward a much larger dream for Neale.
“Like a lot of runners especially at this level now, our dream is the Olympics and those world championships,” Neale said. “That’s the dream, that’s the goal. You never know what will happen with injuries. It would be special to run in the Olympics one day. It might happen, it might not. It’s important to set yourself up for best chance possible.”
The fourth-place finish at the World Cross Trials continued a strong month for Neale, who also won the one-mile run at the Brooks PR Invitational. Held at the Dempsey Indoor facility at the University of Washington on Feb. 24, the Brooks PR Invitational is one of the premier high school indoor track and field competitions in the U.S. Neale won with a time of 4 minutes, 45.89 seconds, about half a second ahead of the second-place finisher from Michigan.
After that victory, the 17-year old Neale travelled more than 4,700 miles from Glacier Peak High School, where she competes for the Grizzlies’ track and field and cross country teams, to Britain for the World Cross Trials. Her absence early in the season does not have Glacier Peak track and field coach Warren Eickoff too concerned.
“I’m totally excited for her. I’m so excited for the opportunities she has,” Eickoff said. “Our goal is not what we’re doing at the meet this week. It’s what we’re doing in May. That’s when league, districts and state occur. ? Hey, we wish she could come run at the dual meet this weekend. You’d love to have her running there because she’s great. But I’m so happy for her.”
Neale will miss Glacier Peak’s first meet of the season, the Chuck Randall Relays, Saturday at Arlington. The British team does not want its runners competing in an event the week before the championships. She’ll also miss next Thursday’s meet at Lake Stevens because she will be in Poland.
Eickoff praised Neale, saying even with her elite status, she always wants to get better. He said Neale’s a great example to her fellow Grizzlies, as well as a great teammate.
“It’s pretty remarkable for the kids to have someone whose name will echo in the halls for years to come,” Eickoff said. “She’s an outstanding member of the team. Every time the kids talk about Amy, not to put her on a pedestal, but they put her in a different realm.”
Neale said that the large-scale international races help her appreciate her high school dual meets more.
“It makes the high school meets nice in a way, because they’re not as stressful,” she said. “Most of the meets aren’t about winning the race, but it’s about time. I definitely get excited for high school meets. I love my team.”
One might think that all the running might have soured Neale on the sport, but she said the desire to run is still there. It’s something else that’s tiring her.
“I’m tired from the travelling mostly,” Neale said. “It’s been very, very busy with the flights and things. I’m tired that way but I’m definitely not tired of running.”