The voluntary sector in sport is the biggest by number of people, the most depended on, yet it is the sector that receives the least recognition. Without volunteers grassroots sport – that’s Sunday leagues, athletics clubs, children’s coaches, the lot – would not exist. And where do you think elite sport participants would come from without grassroots?! So we have an awful lot to thank the ordinary people who give up their spare time to run clubs and coach others.
The Greater Manchester Sports Awards exists to honour these everyday heroes, and I had the pleasure of going along with my friend from run club, Anthony, to sit on the Xtra Mile Events and MLP Law table. Xtra Mile are the organisers of the Manchester Marathon with MLP sponsoring the Corporate Challenge, so it was quite humbling to be sat with the gang who are basically driving my running over the next five months!
One of my favourite moments of the night was when Leigh Genesis Football Club won Club of the Year, and a group of coaches – including a female coach – went up on stage to collect the award. The presenter discussed the teams they look after with the male coaches, before turning to the female coach. “I guess this includes women’s teams as well?” “Yeah”, she said. “But I only coach boys’ teams”. I couldn’t help but laugh – it is easy to fall into stereotypes when talking sport, even when you’re involved in it, as it is so frequently viewed as masculine. Charity organisers of the awards GreaterSport are working to stamp out discrimination – whether that’s age, sex, race, whatever – from grassroots upwards.
For me the most inspiring win was Sports Achiever of the Year, Jess Taylor. I always resonate with those most like me – Jess is around my age but the things she has achieved are absolutely phenomenal. This girl not only got a bronze medal in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games – she is ranked third in the UK heptathlon rankings and fifteenth in the ALL-TIME UK heptathlete rank. AND she has a Masters degree in Architecture! Her next goals are to compete in the Beijing 2015 World Championships and at the Rio 2016 Olympics. With this career trajectory I have no doubt she achieve everything she sets her mind to.
Iwan Thomas MBE was guest speaker, and his story of the journey to the 1998 Budapest European Championships was one part moving to two parts hilarious. It must be tough to be a teenage professional athlete; to have so much expected of you yet still be going through the teenage tantrums that were bad enough without gold medals being on the line. There’s a documentary coming out about Iwan’s relationship with his coach Mike Smith that looks worth a watch for anyone interested in running, or even just self-development.
One thing I’ll keep with me from Iwan’s talk is to believe in yourself, trust in yourself and work hard. You can’t really go wrong if you follow that advice.
All in all, a brilliant night: I got to wear a cocktail dress, get my photo taken with Iwan (though I don’t think the lighting does much for either of us, sorry pal!) and go home with a fuzzy feeling of community and humanity in my tum. Or maybe that was just the wine. Either way, it’s certainly reminded me to thank the marshals next time I’m at a run, for without them there would be no run.