Two young Ipswich track and field athletes will compete in the green and gold at the Oceania Athletics Championships in Townsville from June 25 to 28 in the Under 18 Australian team.
The championships is expected to attract more than 700 athletes, including Olympic and World Championship medallists, to the Townsville Sports Reserve.
Nicholas Meek and Aidan Cusworth attend Ipswich Grammar School (IGS) and train under the watchful eye of coach Diane Sheppard
While both competed at the Australian Athletics Championships in April this year, they have only been in serious training since about 2016.
Nicholas Meek (above) represented Queensland when he contested the 400m at the recent national championships held in Sydney at Olympic Park last April.
He managed a credible fourth in the Under 18 400 metres and was also a member of the Gold medal winning Under 18 – 4 x 400 metre relay team.
“You know how it is. You always get a feeling of nerves and it’s not something you get used to, but it is also a good feeling,” he said.
“But I’m excited to keep doing that. Athletics is my passion.”
Nicholas Meek’s path to running started out in high jump training with Diane Sheppard.
“I was also a soccer player and doing sprint training.
“Di spotted me as future potential talent and wanted me to come in and do some sessions with her squad.
“I was also doing high jump and Di said I needed to develop strength for that so she started me on sprints.
“The high jump was starting to mess with my knees and hip so I became a sprinter from there.”
Like most young athletes Nicholas Meek met Di Sheppard on the bottom oval at IGS.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s how we met,” he said.
Achieving results at a national level doesn’t come without a lot of hard work and regular training.
Mr Meek said his training was still in the pre-season.
“We do a lot of fitness and conditioning and today (Monday) we’re going to do a hill session on Denmark Hill.
“That helps a lot with endurance and power. Tuesday is more fitness and Wednesday is speed and strength as well as aerobic capacity.
“We train Monday to Saturday pre-season and Monday to Friday during the season.”
He said mental preparation was important for him before a major event.
“Di helps calms me down a bit because the nerves are still there.
“She reminds us that nerves are good, as they show passion and channelling our nerves is an important lesson, is supportive and keeps me focussed both in and out of competition.”
Next year Nicholas said he hoped to make the Australian Under 20 World Juniors team and beyond that it was his goal to one day be good enough to represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games or Olympics.
For now though his attention was focused on the Oceania Championships.
Nicholas Meek will be joined in Townsville by fellow IGS student Aidan Cusworth (above) who recently won the Under 18 national championship in the 400 metres hurdles.
He said his first interest in sport was gymnastics, then rugby.
“I was always good at running and in grade seven Di said I should try hurdles which I found fun.
“The mentoring and coaching from Di means a lot because I have been pushed to go that extra step further and she is very supportive of my athletics.
“My training is mainly speed work and hurdles but I’m working a lot harder now compared to what I used to do.
“There’s a lot of long distance stuff and technical running which is fun but it takes two and a half hours each day sometimes more.”
Aidan Cusworth said he didn’t do a lot of mental preparation for major meets.
“Usually I’m intimidated before I run but the boys I run with are very supportive in quite a good atmosphere.”
He said going to Townsville next month should a bit like the nationals but anything can happen in a hurdles race.
“I like running in warmer weather and I feel a lot faster.
“Beyond IGS I’m really focused on getting into college in America.
“I also enjoy living in the moment and enjoying what I have now,” Aidan Cusworth said.
Coach Diane Sheppard has become a well-known fixture on the bottom oval at IGS every afternoon of training.
Diane has been coaching for 21 years and said her pathway into coaching happened when taking her own kids to sport.
“When they were younger I did gymnastics coaching and judging.
“Then I did rugby league coaching basically because I was sitting there and you get asked to help so you do.
“Athletics was the same which I did as a child for a little bit and it became my passion to coach.”
Diane Sheppard became a natural at coaching and was self-taught.
“I don’t have a science background or a PE teacher’s background. I get results though passing on life skills. Resiliency is number one.
“I think I have a natural eye to see things and follow my gut instinct.
“It’s important to tell the boys ‘I think you will be good at this’.
“If I don’t understand something I will go and research it.
“You never stop learning. This is what I tell the kids.
“The best advice I can give any athlete is speed because speed is in every sport.
“You’ve got your natural athletes but everybody is capable of getting faster.”
Diane Sheppard said the future for Nicholas and Aidan would depend on their transition between juniors and seniors.
“We don’t have an under 23s in Australia, so we go straight from under 20s to open.
“Both have a bright future if they steer their way around the normal teenage end of school distractions,” she said.
At the Oceania Championships Nicholas Meek will contest the 400 metre sprint and 4 x 400 metre relay team while Aidan Cusworth will compete in the hurdles events.
Track and field athletes Nicholas Meek (left) and Aidan Cusworth with coach Diane Sheppard at IGS