Callum Wilkinson has revealed he will be using his 2015 Greene King St Edmundsbury Sports Personality of the Year trophy as the motivation to reach the top of the world.
The former King Edward VI School pupil, who left the Bury St Edmunds-based school to go to university in Leeds in the summer, took the St Edmundsbury Sports Award’s blue riband category in front of more than 200 people at the Apex in Bury on Friday in what was a night of celebrating a wealth of local sport.
The 18-year-old, who lives in Moulton, near Newmarket, has enjoyed a meteoric rise since switching to race walking under the tutelage of Commonwealth Games gold medallist Ron Wallwork MBE just three years ago — going from a complete novice to being ranked seventh in Europe for his age group under coach Mick Graham, and setting no less than three British records this season.
And Wilkinson, who received a standing ovation on collecting his award, which was the culmination of the ninth awards run by Abbeycroft Leisure, revealed he will be aiming to use it to spur him on to even bigger things on the track.
“The sports personality is the big one, it’s the last one of the night and to get that recognition and the award just shows what a great year my team and myself have had, so long may it continue into next year,” he said.
“I’m seventh in Europe, now let’s get top three in the world, and that’s a great position to be in.
“I can realistically say that if I improve at the rate I know I can and my coaching team believe I can, I will be in a position to challenge for a gold Olympic medal and the best junior athlete in the world.
“But first I have a big winter, my biggest yet, and I want to come out next year stronger walking further and faster than ever before. And this is a bit of motivation going into the winter that can sit on my sideboard at university saying ‘that is where I have come from’, there is my map of Russia, Kazan, and ‘that is where I want to go’, and I want the big one.”
Wilkinson won the award ahead of Bury St Edmunds Tchoukball Club’s fellow teenager sensation and Tchoukball UK’s Young Male Player of the Year, Max Van der Oort, and St Edmundsbury Sailing and Canoeing Association star Deb Steele, who has picked up one gold, two silver and two bronze medals at the International Sailing Federation Team Racing World Championship for Great Britain.
Wilkinson added: “It is great to go to events like this and learn about all these other athletes, sportsmen and women and their coaches that I haven’t heard of but are doing great things in our community.
“I am proud of being from Suffolk and proud of being from St Edmundsbury, so to get the award from an evening with so much talent in there is great.”
Fellow Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre training partner and triple national champion Rhys Turnbull-Bester, who competes across 200m, 400m and 800m in the disability classification of T20 (intellectual disabilities), prevented him from completing a double by beating him to The Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District Lifetime Achievement award.
“I would say of all the athletes I train with, Rhys deserves the recognition for what he puts in,” said Wilkinson.
There were a pair of double award winners on the night though, in teenage national basketball talent Esther Little and community sports champion Allan Loveday.
Ixworth-based Little was rewarded for an excellent season of achievement, despite having to deal with losing her mum, making the England Under-15s squad before news came of an under-16 squad place a week before the awards, with both the Suffolk Sport Young Sports Personality of the Year and Newmarket Racecourses People’s Youth Champion.
“I can’t believe it, it’s amazing,” she said. “My aim at the start of the season had been to get into the (England) under-16s, and now it is to get into the final 12, hopefully.
“That would mean I go to the Europeans to represent England.
“It has been a tough year and everyone at the club (Ipswich) has been there to support me when I needed them and they have done a couple of fund-raisers for charity as well.”
Loveday has had a similarly tough year with his wife battling cancer for the third time. But from work on Thurlow’s new play area to cleaning up dog mess on the Recreation Ground to dealing with break-ins at the village’s sports club, it has far from stopped him promoting sport in his home area, leading to him walking off as a deserving winner of both the Sodexo Community Volunteer and The Unison Unsung Hero.
“The Unsung Hero award is really for a culmination of 43 years of actively being involved in sport in Thurlow,” he said. “It has also been something that over the last 30 years, since we had a sports pavilion built, has been a labour of love.”
On a team front, Bury St Edmunds Tchoukball Club carried off the Club of the Year award (this year sponsored by Music Sales) for the third year in succession after winning the quadruple.
Another record-breaking campaign saw the club remain unbeaten in the league since January 2014, and in so doing won a fourth successive championship trophy. On top of this, they finished 11th in Europe.
During a break in the awards ceremony, local elite sporting stars gave a special insight into their lives in a panel interview with Bury Free Press and Haverhill Echo sports editor Russell Claydon. The panel involved race walker Callum Wilkinson, triathletes Lesley Linden and Mandy Bunn, basketball stars Esther Little and Maya Price, along with Boccia athletes and Rio 2016 hopefuls Evie Edwards and Will Hipwell, who all train between Bury and Haverhill leisure centres.
n To see a video of the Q&A panel of elite athletes during the awards interval, log on to www.haverhillecho.co.uk/video
The full winners list: Greene King Sports Personality of the Year: Callum Wilkinson (race walking); Suffolk Sport Young Sports Personality of the Year: Esther Little (basketball); Newmarket Racecourses People’s Youth Champion: Esther Little (basketball); Bury Free Press and Haverhill Echo People’s Champion: Julie Ankers (Haverhill Rovers Football Club); Newmarket Motor Company Coach of the Year: Phil Ward (West Suffolk Swimming Club; Revel Outdoors Individual Performance /Achievement of the Year: Rhys Turnbull-Bester (athletics); Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District Lifetime Achievement: Kevin Pullen (Haverhill Rugby Club). Greene King Triumph Over Adversity: Brian Cash (Bury St Edmunds Croquet Club); Sodexo Community Volunteer: Allan Loveday (Thurlow Sports Club); Unison Unsung Hero: Allan Loveday (Thurlow Sports Club); Bury Town Football Club Most Active Workplace: Ashton KCJ; Music Sales Ltd Club of the Year: Bury St Edmunds Tchoukball Club.