Huntingdon Cadet is Top Junior Athlete

Huntingdon Cadet is Top Junior Athlete

31 October 2023

  • Cambridgeshire ACF

Cambridgeshire Army Cadet Force helps to create winners and leaders, encouraging young people to develop confidence, discipline and teamwork skills. Whilst these qualities can be turned to any career or discipline, they are especially applicable to the drive and determination needed to succeed in sport. Over the last two years, Cadet Sgt Leah Wagstaff’s spectacular series of wins has seen her become one of the best junior female hurdlers in the country.

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Cadet Sgt Leah Wagstaff with her medals.

Leah joined Cambs ACF in 2021 and is enthusiastic about her cadet experience and the role it has played in her success. She says: ‘The best thing about cadets is the wide range of things you get to do – fieldcraft, Duke of Edinburgh’s award, adventure training and the development of leadership skills, things you wouldn’t get to do anywhere else. The Army Cadets has also helped me develop the discipline and time management needed to be a successful athlete,’

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Medals close-up.

Leah has demonstrated an interest in athletics since she was 8 years old, but became seriously interested at the age of 12. Last year she began an extraordinary run of successes in sprint hurdling, beginning with qualifying for the Under15s England Athletics Indoor Nationals held at the English Institute of Sport, Sheffield, where she came first in the National Competition. Following this success, Leah went on to win the Outdoor County Championships for 75m hurdles. Her time led to her selection for the Cambridgeshire School’s Team to compete in the English Schools Competition, held at Manchester, where she again took first place, followed by another first at the England Athletics Outdoor Nationals, competing in the 75 metre event. When Leah turned 15, she qualified for the Under 17s (U17) England Athletic Indoor Nationals and made the final, followed by first place at the County Championships, her time qualifying her for English Schools again in the 80m hurdles.

She went on to come second in the English School’s final, and she was then selected by The School’s International Athletics Board (SIAB) to compete internationally for the England Schools team, taking first place. In August this year she competed in the England Athletics Outdoor Nationals at Birmingham, qualifying second in the heat and winning the 80 metres national title. This led to her being ranked second overall in the UK for under 17 hurdlers this year.

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SIAB 2023 - Determined hurdling

Leah said; ‘I’m pretty happy, its good to know that hard work pays off. However, I can’t get complacent, I have to keep working for the next goal, as I am again looking to qualify for the next England Athletics Indoor Nationals and the outdoor seasons, and to go on to qualify for the under 18 European Championships.

Leah’s success has been due to her commitment and determination, demonstrated by an intensive training regime. For the last eighteen months, this has involved 2 hours training with her coach, Stuart Dunlop, at the Cambridge and Coleridge Athletic Club on a Monday, a weight training session at the gym on Tuesday, training for an hour and a half on Thursdays and training for 2 hours on Saturday also, all fitted around school and Army cadet commitments. She also helps to coach other young athletes at her athletics club. The club said: ‘Leah Wagstaff has continued her amazing summer of success with victory in the U17 hurdles at the English Championships. Although only in her first year as an U17, she eased through her heat to claim her place in the final. In the final she controlled the race from the start to win comfortably in 11.37. This was just outside her fastest time of the year, 11.35, which remains the quickest time in Britain for a first year in 2023 for her age group. Many congratulations to her, and her coach.’

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England Nationals - 1st place!

Leah said; ‘As well as developing discipline, the Army Cadets has helped give me the leadership skills needed to coach other junior athletes. This started with my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which got me involved with volunteering as a coach. I have also had a great deal of support from Huntingdon Detachment, especially from Cdt Staff Sgt Corby, Sgt Lawrence, Sgt Tranter, SSI Phipps and SSI Smith, and Non-Uniformed Volunteer George Dutton.

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With coach Stuart Dunlop.

Her Detachment Commander, SSI Andy Phipps, said: "Sgt Wagstaff is a good, lucky, cheeky, and friendly person who will go out of her way to help anyone. In the early years, she struck up a friendship Cdt Sgts Isaac Lawrence and Poppy Tranter. To me, they are known as ‘the three amigos’. I believe that this friendship is what made them thrive in cadets so much to attain their rank in a timely manner. Outside cadets, I knew of Leah’s achievements in athletics, as I’m also a UK athletics coach for a rival club. Trust me, I have tried to persuade her to join, but to no avail! I do believe that in the path she is following, she has the ability to go to the top in cadets before aging out, but also with her hard work and dedication to athletics, that she will be appearing on the adult athletics stage competing for England and the United Kingdom. As a cadet and as an athlete, she is a talent to be recognised, and as her Detachment Commander, I could not be more proud."

Leah hopes to become a professional athlete, and everyone at Cambs ACF will be rooting for her continued success.

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SIAB 2023 - Winners podium

Text by SI Doug Stuart.