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Haverhill Running Club Junior section head coach Sil Clay crowned ‘Coach of the Year’ at England Athletics Volunteer Awards

The head coach of the Junior section at Haverhill Running Club, Sil Clay, was crowned Coach of the Year at the England Athletics (East Region) Volunteer Awards ceremony on Saturday evening.

The event, held at The Atheneum in Bury St Edmunds, was attended by shortlisted nominees from all over the East, plus members of the East Regional Council and the CEO of England Athletics, Chris Jones.

“It was absolutely fantastic and I must admit I didn’t see it coming,” said Clay.

Sil Clay with her Coach of the Year award
Sil Clay with her Coach of the Year award

“They’re very inspirational and dedicated kids. We are not a big club. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. They always turn up, even when it’s raining and suck in everything that I tell them.”

Clay started the Junior section at Haverhill Running Club, that trains 12-17 year-olds, five years ago and has since seen the children she coaches have success at various events.

But the main aspect she enjoys is the environment and positive atmosphere that has formed at the club, created by the children but also her committee – consisting of herself and six members.

Clay stressed while she has won an individual award, it is dedicated to her team of ‘fantastic people’ who together secured grants of £3,000 to enable the Junior section to purchase floodlights to continue training on dark evenings.

She described the work they do to make sure the sessions go ahead as ‘magic’ as the committee put up and take down the floodlights every Tuesday evening come rain or shine.

Before she was announced as Coach of the Year, a montage was of messages from the children that Clay coaches was played as they thanked her for her hard work and dedication to the club.

“When I saw the videos I was so emotional. The person who was presenting the award had to let me gather my thoughts. It’s very rare you see me cry over anything. In those few seconds, everything that we do was put together. We are a team and I felt that as I watched the video. It was a wonderful thing.

“We always talk about us being a team. We are inclusive. Some come to make friends and when I watch them become friends – I feel like I’ve achieved my goal.

“Sometimes when we go for races and I see the kids come out in their Haverhill vests and you see them go, you just feel so proud. I am also proud of the committee that have stuck with me, we have been together for a long time.”

In a tribute to Clay, she was described as ‘a force of nature, with boundless energy, an infectious smile and plenty of patience’ and has inspired the children she coaches to become ‘life-long runners’.

Clay also stated that she would not be where she is without the support of her husband, Keith, who is an ‘unsung hero’ and ‘central’ to her work.

With the fantastic progression of the junior section over the last five years, Clay has achieved a Level 3 Endurance Coach qualification and is hoping to start another section at the club for eight to 12 year-olds in January.

For anyone interested in this they should contact Haverhill Running Club via their website.