The hardships and tribulations during the early stages of a high-performance athlete’s career are often well documented, but the challenges experienced by the ‘team behind the team’ are largely left unheard.
Parents and guardians play a crucial role in the journey of a sports star rising to the top of their game, and Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge, and a host of SportsAid alumni, ambassadors and currently supported athletes came together to celebrate their influence at the London Stadium recently.
SportsAid has supported tens of thousands of athletes during the critical early stages of their careers, including double Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington, European Junior BMX gold medallist Ross Cullen and SportsAid’s One-to-Watch Award winner Ellie Challis.
But what challenges have their parents faced as they’ve helped their children on their path towards success? And how important was the influence of SportsAid support from their perspective?
“There were difficult times. There was a point when Becky was training an hour away from home and had to be at the pool for 5am, which meant getting up at 3am, taking her to training, getting back at 9am, taking her to school, going to work and then taking her back to swimming for 4pm.
“In the end I had to give up work and Becky had to move clubs because it wasn’t possible to continue like that. It wasn’t always easy but we were driven by the fact we could see how much she wanted it. I can’t remember a single time when she didn’t want to go to training.
“It was huge to receive the recognition from SportsAid from a financial point of view because at the time I wasn’t working, but also knowing other people were recognising her talent was a big boost to the whole family."
“We’ve missed family events and parties and there are times when it can be very tough, but we’ve always done our best to be as supportive as possible, and as long as Ross has wanted to do it, we have been committed to being involved.
“You’re making a massive commitment as a parent - you’re giving up time and finances and it affects everything that you do. It’s important to enjoy the ride and try to make the most of the opportunities you get. For example, we try to make trips to competitions into mini holidays.
“Ross had to make a tough decision recently about whether to commit to cycling full-time, and SportsAid funding has helped him do events he would otherwise not have been able to do. It’s also given him a sense of independence which I think has helped him mature and develop as a person, too."
“I remember Ellie’s first gala – it was a seven-hour day and she was in the water for about two minutes. I didn’t think it was something I could do – I just thought it would be something she’d have a go at and then we’d be on our way trying something else.
“I’m a single parent so there have been some incredibly tough times when I’ve had to try and be in three places at once, but to see the enjoyment she gets out of it, and the sense of pride I’ve felt when I’ve watched her achieve what she has makes every second of hardship worthwhile.
“The impact of SportsAid is two-fold for me – the money makes an amazing difference because the further she goes the more challenging that side of things becomes, but also the fact someone’s recognising she’s worth investing in makes me very proud.”
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