Eagles graduate to Thunderbirds

Two Maple Ridge grads who started running together as eight-year-old track rascals with Golden Ears Athletics are becoming UBC Thunderbirds

Madelyn Huston (left) and Jamie Hennessey (right) in this year’s Vancouver Spirit Run. They are childhood friends

Madelyn Huston (left) and Jamie Hennessey (right) in this year’s Vancouver Spirit Run. They are childhood friends

Two Maple Ridge grads who started running together as eight-year-old track rascals with Golden Ears Athletics Eagles, are becoming UBC Thunderbirds together next year.

Jamie Hennessey and Madelyn Huston are almost lifelong friends who met in kindergarten, and have both become elite scholar athletes.

Huston said they have motivated and pushed each other.

“It’s nice to have a really good friend there. It makes it fun to go to training.”

She said they are on a break from their training with the Eagles, but they are running hills together.

For Huston, the highlight of her track career so far was making the provincial cross-country team and racing at the nationals in Kingston, Ont. last season. She finished 19th.

“It was cool being part of a provincial team.”

She took bronze in the 800m at the B.C. High School Track and Field Championships as a Grade 11 for Thomas Haney last year, and hopes to move up the podium this spring.

And Huston also won the 800m at the provincial club track and field championships in each of the past two years.

Hennessey runs longer distances – the 1,500m and 3,000m events, and should have a shot to medal at the provincials. Last year she finished fifth in both events. Running for Maple Ridge secondary, she took fourth at the Fraser Valley cross-country championships and 15th overall at provincials in 2015.

Distance running can be grueling, but Hennessey gets in a zone, and said she loves everything about a race.

“I like the challenge of setting personal bests and breaking personal bests, and getting in a rhythm on a run, and then racing for the finish line.”

For the past two years she has been battling with Type 1 diabetes, and it has cost her some races. Her blood sugar levels can go off, and “my legs would feel like they’re bricks.

“It’s made a huge difference, and I have to be a lot more aware of what I eat,” she said.

Both girls are also straight-A students, and their combination of being fast runners and learners had university track recruiters wooing them.

Huston received a letter from Cornell University, but even the prestige of an Ivy League degree couldn’t dissuade her from attending in Canada. Both girls felt the same way – they wanted a degree from a Canadian school.

“Education is what university is all about,” said Hennessey.

That being the case, their options narrowed considerably, because only Simon Fraser University and UBC have track programs that provide elite competition in U.S.-based conferences. UBC competes in the NAIA, and SFU in the NCAA second division.

They toured UBC separately, then got the chance to train with the Thunderbirds together, under the auspices of Norm Tinkham, who has been their Eagles coach. Tinkham has now successfully recruited them for UBC, where he also coaches. His daughter Mikayla is also there, and is another friend and former teammate of Hennessey and Huston.

Huston said it was inspiring to train with the Thunderbirds team – great athletes training intensely.

“They’re at the level I hope to be at in the next few years.”

In the short term, she just wants to keep improving her times. But in the long run, she would like to compete on the international stage.

The girls say they didn’t choose UBC so they could continue training together – they were considering their education first. But they’re both happy it worked out that way.

“It was a nice piece that I’ll be on he same team as her,” said Huston.

“I’m super excited,” said Hennessey. “It’s encouraging to have her there.”

Huston said she is going into classical studies, of ancient Greece and Rome, and she will wait and see where her interests take her.

Hennessey will study nutrition, and would like to be a dietitian/nutritionist with an athletics national team.

Eagles head coach Andrew Lenton is predicting success for both girls at the next level, and this year as they finish their high school careers.

“UBC is a good fit for them,” he said. “And they will both contend for medals at the B.C. High School Championships.”

“They are two of the best female distance athletes to ever come out of Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows,” he added.

Combined with their high academic achievements, he said they are “the cream of the crop.

“We’re proud of what they’ve done.”

His fellow Eagles coach Tinkham is part of a UBC program on the upswing, said Lenton. Tinkham was a distinguished athlete who represented Canada six times and was a national champ at the 10,000m distance, and he has become a great coach. He’s a physiotherapist with a strong understanding of the science of sport.