Short-track speed-skating sensation Elise Christie joined Olympic silver medallists Leon Taylor and Richard Hounslow for a special workshop to share their insight and experience with young SportsAid athletes, supported by the Nottingham Building Society, aspiring to be the country’s next generation of sporting heroes at the City Ground on Thursday (27 April).
Elise, 26, who won three gold medals at the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in March and will be representing Team GB at next year’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, acted as a mentor alongside former diver Leon and Richard, a recently retired canoeist, as they provided advice and guidance to athletes and their parents.
The workshop allowed athletes to find out how they can improve their nutritional intake, the best ways to raise their profile and how to deal with the media. There was dedicated mentoring on offer from each of the Olympians and the chance to ask questions of Elise, Leon and Richard during a panel discussion focusing on their journeys into sport.
“It’s been great to meet the younger athletes and provide them with support to help with their careers, motivating them and getting them to do the right things early on so they can develop into stars,” said Elise. “SportsAid do incredible things for young athletes. I have been really impressed [by the response of the athletes] - they are so interested in wanting to learn and communicate.
“I think it makes a massive difference when you see what’s being provided for these athletes. They’re receiving help on working with the media, which is massive for their generation, especially with social media, and support on nutrition, which has a massive impact day-to-day, so what they’re doing here is really important for the future.”
The Nottingham has been a partner of SportsAid since 2013 and is supporting 50 athletes this year. Team GB table tennis player Sam Walker, Great Britain para-sprinter Zac Shaw, junior world champion freestyle skier Molly Summerhayes and tennis star Freya Christie have all been previous recipients of athlete awards from the Nottingham.
Each of the supported athletes are linked to a local branch of the Nottingham with the staff engaged in wide-ranging fundraising activity to generate extra finance for their respective athletes. In addition, The Nottingham launched a special savings account to help the next generation during the inaugural SportsAid Week in September 2016.
“It’s massively important that SportsAid are able to do their work supporting the next generation of athletes who have been tipped to make it one day,” said Leon. “Key partners like The Nottingham play an important role – not only does each athlete get £750 in funding to go towards the massive amounts of training costs, but they also have experiences like today.
“I always walk into these workshops with an open mind and every time I wish I was still that age competing in my sport! Once upon a time I was and now it’s the next generation’s chance so for me to play a little bit of a part in their progress, to support and challenge them in some way to really go after their dreams, it’s deeply gratifying for me.”
Leon added: “I always leave these days on a high. The difference this support makes is not often by handing them a cheque, it’s the ability to be inspired by those you’re surrounded by, as well as the pat on the back, the recognition they receive, where somebody outside of your friends and family believes in you. That’s what workshops like today really epitomise.”
Great Britain middle-distance runner Tilly Simpson, 16, is being supported by the Nottingham in 2017 and her big dream is to compete at the Olympics over 800m and 1500m. She felt the benefit of the workshop and is hoping to one day follow in the footsteps of her idol Kelly Holmes, a member of SportsAid’s alumni, saying she would ‘love to replicate what she did’.
“With running, you really have to apply your diet correctly, and that’s been a key weakness for me,” said Tilly. “I do feel like I eat right but it’s more about knowing the beneficial carbohydrates, proteins and everything else you need for your body. The mentoring session with Leon was really inspirational and it was good to pick up tips on the media too.
“I’m really grateful to SportsAid and the Nottingham for their support. I’ve had trouble in the last year with injuries so their help will go towards my parents paying for physio, hydrotherapy sessions and nutrition. I think these schemes are important to keep athletes in their sports as it shows them that there are people who really want you to succeed.”
The parents and coaches accompanying the athletes also had the chance to sit in on specially adapted nutrition and media sessions, as well as listening and contributing to talks on athlete welfare and supporting a son or daughter with their sporting ambitions. Helen Taylor-Tipton, mother of British freestyle skier Justin, felt the impact of the workshop.
“It’s been really beneficial talking to the parents of other athletes and hearing the challenges they face,” said Helen. “The funding makes a big difference as it allows Justin to go away and train abroad and we can apply for his license to compete in big world competitions. It’s good to know they’re not on their own on this pathway and others are there to support them.”
Simon Taylor, Chief Operating Officer at the Nottingham, explained how proud he was of the help they give to local talented athletes: “With this set of athletes included, we’ll have helped 128 young sports stars, all closely associated to our heartland and our branches, since the start of our partnership with SportsAid. We’re delighted to play a small part in their journey.
“Our staff have raised over £36,000 across the last few years to support individual athletes. They’ve baked cakes, run marathons, undertaken triathlons and sponsored swims to really get behind them. As an organisation, we passionately believe that it’s part of our role to help to put back into society and to be a part of our local communities.”
Here is the list of the Nottingham Building Society’s athlete intake for 2017:
Kian Watkins, 13, Lincoln (Archery)
Lizzie Warner, 17, Leicester (Archery)
Louis Perkins, 15, Spilsby (Archery)
Alex Knibbs, 17, Belper (Athletics)
Emma Achurch, 19, Leicester (Athletics)
Gerald Matthew, 19, Luton (Athletics)
Jessica Turner, 21, Ripley (Athletics)
Joel Leon Benitez, 18, Nottingham (Athletics)
Lee Thompson, 19, Worksop (Athletics)
Tilly Simpson, 16, Sheffield (Athletics)
David Hong, 16, Derby (Badminton)
Grace King, 16, Derby (Badminton)
Hope Warner, 15, Leicester (Badminton)
Adam Hames, 17, Loughborough (Bobsleigh)
Benjamin Vaughan, 17, Northampton (Boxing)
Eithan James, 16, Northampton (Boxing)
Shona Whitwell, 19, Bluntisham (Boxing)
Charlie Smith, 17, Leighton Buzzard (Canoeing)
Ewan Vernon, 17, Nottingham (Canoeing)
Samuel Maingay, 16, Stafford (Canoeing)
Lucy Higham, 19, Leicester (Cricket)
Alec Gregory, 15, Quorn (Cycling)
Poppy Wildman, 15, Nottingham (Cycling)
Jayden Saberton, 16, Sheffield (Disability Athletics)
Billy Lee Dixon, 15, Dronfield (Disability Football)
Richelle Houlden, 12, Sheffield (Diving)
Taylor Hinds, 17, Northampton (Football)
James Bailey, 15, Burton Upon Trent (Golf)
Alice Huddlestone, 18, Retford (Hockey)
Joshua Pavis, 18, Nottingham (Hockey)
Jamie Leigh Whitaker, 16, Glossop (Judo)
Anya Falkus, 14, Wisbech (Para Swimming)
Hayley Milne, 17, Grantham (Para Swimming)
Tobias Schroder, 17, Nottingham (Rowing)
Tabitha Copson, 16, Market Harborough (Rugby Union)
Izzy Roberts, 18, Nottingham (Short-Track Speed Skating)
Jack Crawford, 17, Nottingham (Short-Track Speed Skating)
Natalie Crawford, 15, Nottingham (Short-Track Speed Skating)
Tayla Kaye, 18, Nottingham (Short-Track Speed Skating)
Ethan Davis, 15, Forest Town (Skiing)
Justin Taylor-Tipton, 16, Ilkeston (Skiing)
Saskia Davies, 16, Melton Mowbray (Softball)
Harry Falconer, 18, Grimsby (Squash)
Darcie Proud, 13, Skegness (Table Tennis)
Adrian Wagstaffe, 16, Nottingham (Taekwondo)
Caitlin Roper, 17, Lutterworth (Triathlon)
Olivia Mathias, 18, Newark (Triathlon)
Harry Spavin, 19, Scawby (Wakeboarding)
Emily Campbell, 22, Nottingham (Weightlifting)
Lucy Robinson, 17, Loughborough (Wheelchair Basketball)