Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge showed their support for SportsAid and Britain’s brightest sporting prospects as they joined the charity to celebrate the Commonwealth at the Copper Box Arena yesterday (22 March). The visit came ahead of next month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and also provided The Duke and Duchess with the opportunity to look ahead to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. The Games get underway in under a fortnight with over 350 previous SportsAid beneficiaries set to compete for their respective nations.
The Duke and Duchess were greeted by pupils from Chobham Academy upon their arrival at the Olympic Park before they headed into the Arena, accompanied by SportsAid chief executive Tim Lawler and Mark Lillie, the charity’s Chair, to watch a wheelchair basketball session led by Paralympic athletes. They were introduced to Simon Fisher, Pathways Manager at British Wheelchair Basketball, and SportsAid alumni Ade Adepitan, Gregg Warburton and Robyn Love, as they found out more about the sport and its introduction to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in four years’ time.
The Duke was shown how to use the chair by Ade, Gregg and Robyn, as well as Christy Gregan, Sophie Carrigill and Joy Haizelden, and proceeded close to the free-throw line where he shot into the hoop. Shortly afterwards, The Duke and Duchess made their way upstairs to meet diver Emily Martin, volleyball player Sam Marsh and para-sprinter Souleyman Bah. The trio had been part of a session offering advice on how best to tell their story to a wider audience through the media. Emily, Sam and Souleyman talked about what they had learnt and the difference SportsAid has made to them.
Double Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold had also sat in on the session and gave tips to the athletes on working with the press – particularly during a competition such as the Commonwealth Games. Lizzy, who is a former beneficiary of support through the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS), a programme managed by SportsAid, informed The Duke and Duchess about the help she gained as she began her journey into the world of skeleton. She was studying at the University of Gloucestershire when her TASS award helped her balance her sporting and academic endeavours.
“Meeting lots of young athletes is always a nice way to spend the day because they are the people I need to make sure I am inspiring,” said Lizzy. “It’s a great help [SportsAid support] when younger athletes don’t yet know the world of dealing with school studies and university and sport. They have different experiences but essentially we are all the same athletes, who want to get better, be selected for the next big event and perform on the big stage. It’s awesome to come back and tell them that I was exactly where they are and now I’ve got two Olympic gold medals. They can absolutely do it.”
The Duchess, who has been the Patron of SportsAid since 2013, teamed up with Lizzy for a special Commonwealth Quiz. There were 18 teams in total with each named after a host city from the Commonwealth Games. The Duchess and Lizzy, alongside gymnast Sam Mostowfi and his mum Jane, represented Brisbane 1982, while The Duke’s Edmonton 1978 team had Paralympic bronze medallist Ade, tennis player Indianna Spink and her mum Julie in his corner. The Duke came out on top as his team answered four out of five questions correctly whereas The Duchess’s team managed three.
Before departing, The Duke and Duchess met several SportsAid supporters, including trustees Michelle Moore and Ronnie Denholm, and heard from athletes who continue to benefit greatly from the charity’s help. Team England para-athlete Joshua Bain talked of his excitement to head out to the Gold Coast while Chris Murray gave them an insight into his weightlifting exploits. Commonwealth Youth Games medallists Amber Anning and Vera Chinedu also had the chance to talk about their experiences in the Bahamas last summer and their ambitions to qualify for Birmingham 2022.
“I had the honour of speaking with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,” said sprinter Vera. “I was a bit nervous at first but they are really nice and down to earth. He was asking me about my sport, and what event I did. He wanted to know how I fit my education and other parts of my life with my sport. They also asked about how SportsAid helps me as an athlete. Last year I was injured and I had to pay for medical fees and SportsAid helped me a lot. Without it I might not have been able to afford it so quickly. It also gave me a mental boost knowing they supported me and that gave me belief too.”
The visit from The Duke and Duchess concluded as Amber and Vera, both 17, handed them two gifts – soft toys of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games mascot Borobi - for Prince George and Princess Charlotte. Melanie Anning, mother of Amber, was delighted to see her daughter have the chance to meet The Duke and Duchess and share her story about the dedication and sacrifice she shows to fully commit to her sport. 400m runner Amber considers Birmingham 2022 as a long-term goal and Melanie feels the wide-ranging support of SportsAid is providing a boost in her development.
“It’s all about aspiration and inspiration with the Commonwealth Games coming up and that’s where Amber wants to be,” said Melanie. “She’s here with young athletes from a wide variety of disciplines and gets to meet an Olympic champion like Lizzy Yarnold. It’s really inspiring. It makes her feel even more ready for it and makes her want it more. With a lot of young athletes, you get a bit sick of being told your child has natural talent. They might start out with some talent but they work hard and they sacrifice a lot to move on and move up. Amber gives 100 per cent. As a parent I’m incredibly proud.”
The day continued as SportsAid’s annual wheelchair basketball competition – the #SupportTheNext Trophy – focused an even greater spotlight on the sport and its accessibility. The vast majority of participants who compete each year are able-bodied as they look to gain a greater understanding of wheelchair basketball and its fast-paced nature while raising funds for SportsAid. 15 members of the ParalympicsGB squad from Rio had been recipients of SportsAid support and the inclusion of the sport for Birmingham 2022 will see even more of the charity’s alumni back on the international stage.
“This is a fantastic event to help raise the profile of what SportsAid gives to young athletes,” said Robyn. “I was funded in 2015 and a year later I was in the squad for Rio 2016 so it shows what a great impact SportsAid can have. The money helped me move from Scotland to England and allowed me to train full time with the GB squad. I don’t know where I’d be without it. We’ve also focused on the announcement that wheelchair basketball will feature for the first time at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. I’m looking forward to hopefully qualifying with Scotland and making it to the Games.”