The Duchess of Cambridge’s work with aspiring athletes was praised by some of the biggest names in British sport today at a SportsAid reception she attended at SSE’s Home Nation House during her visit to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Tennis star Laura Robson, who yesterday became the charity’s new ambassador for young sportswomen, said after meeting her, “It is a massive help to have someone so high profile be part of such a great organisation. It’s great that she is involved and I look forward to doing more events like this in future.”
Alongside Aled Davies, Keri-anne Payne, Steve Parry, James Hickman and Sally Brown, Robson was one of six SportsAid ambassadors at the event who were there to share their experiences with 15 SportsAid athletes who hope to follow in their footsteps.
One of those SportsAid athletes was Team Scotland swimmer Rachael O’Donnell who only a few days ago was competing in the freestyle relays in the pool at Tollcross. She said, “Having the Duchess’s support gives me a lot of confidence and spurs me on to do well and to achieve the things I want to achieve.”
Team Wales captain Aled Davies met the Duchess for the second time today – the first being when she presented him with his gold medal at London 2012 – and said her love and passion for sport is phenomenal.
“It’s great to have her as the Patron of SportsAid, and you can see how much she loves it,” he said.
“It’s great being here today because, you know, I can’t win golds forever and we have to make sure we keep bringing the talent through. It all starts at the grassroots and these guys who are given a helping hand from SportsAid are on a stepping stone to becoming some of the greatest athletes around. If you nurture that at a young age and provide the right support, they’ve been given the opportunity, even if they don’t make it. They are hungry for success and that’s inspiring.”
Another SportsAid athlete at the reception was 15-year-old swimmer Thomas Hamer from Lancashire who on Saturday set a new British record at Glasgow 2014 to win a silver medal in the S14 200m freestyle.
“It’s been an amazing experience in Glasgow I never thought even six months ago that I’d be here. The people and the atmosphere have been fantastic. I was over the moon to win the silver medal on Saturday and get the British record. That’s what I wanted, the British record. I’m really pleased with my swim.
“I was so excited when I heard I was going to meet the Duchess today. It’s really good to know that she is supporting athletes like me.”
Both Rachael and Thomas have been supported by SSE this year as part of its Next Generation programme which is run in partnership with SportsAid to help young people with big ambitions in sport.
Thomas said, “The support has helped me a lot. It’s been a really good experience and I’ve met a lot of new people. I’ve learnt a lot too, especially about the media.”
Rachael added, “The financial support has been a great help. Swimming costs a lot of money just to get suits and the training and travelling costs, so just to have that extra help has been a weight off my shoulders and it takes some of the stress of the sport off me and helps me focus on just the pool work. The more relaxed you are the faster you swim so to get the funding helped me qualify for the Games.”
Speaking to an audience of SportsAid supporters towards the end of the reception, Olympic bronze medallist Steve Parry expressed his excitement for the future of British sport.
“The direction of travel is utterly brilliant. In 1996 we won one Olympic gold medal and now we are pound for pound the best Olympic sporting nation on the planet. And here in Glasgow, when you add up all the medals for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland we trounce Australia. Sport has never been in a better place in this country. We have fantastic role models like the people we see here today and it’s fantastic to see kids getting into it at the grassroots.
“When I was 14 in Liverpool my parents were struggling to pay to get me to meets and training because there’s a lot of money on petrol and training fees alone so that £500 from SportsAid made all the difference in the world. It went straight to my mum and dad so they could keep me training and I feel forever in debt to SportsAid and I’m sure these athletes will as well. It makes a really huge difference in their lives and we know they are our future medallists because the stats prove it.”