This blog follows on from my previous post about my ‘warm’ weather camp in England!
The Funding Future Olympians and Paralympians grant (FFOP) is aiming at developing and supporting Wiltshire’s talented athletes. It covers a range of sports, anything recognised by Sport England. I was lucky to receive one of 14 £1000 awards for 2014, which funded my high altitude camp in Livigno. This year, I was incredibly lucky and honoured to receive one of 11 £1000 awards. I say lucky, because even after my best season ever, I sort of felt unworthy of this award. I almost didn’t apply, because I didn’t think I could be so privileged to receive it for two years in a row. Not to mention that MTBO is a small sport. There were nearly 100 applicants, and the other recipients are Olympic and Paralympic medalists, Commonwealth Games medalists and World Champions. It’s impossible not to feel awed by the achievements of these incredible athletes.
One of the athletes I met, James Brown, is a Paralympic track cyclist who won bronze in London 2012. He used to be a paralympic skier, actually living in Norway near Geilo for 3 years, and knew many of the towns around where I am based now! Perhaps more impressively, James rides a mountain bike. As a visually impaired athlete, he rides with a guide, who tells him where the ruts and roots are, approaching corners and descents/ascents. One race I did before New Year, the Salisbury Plain Challenge, was also attended and raced by James. He lost his guide early on, in what I would say was the hardest part of the course; many steep muddy, rutted descents, with mud ponds at the bottom. Despite the mass start, he got stuck in at the speedy end of the race. He rode the full 50km route. I was in completely inspired by James. So many achievements, and such a passion for sport, life and the outdoors. He’s even keen to try MTBO, it’s just to use a guide to help him negotiate the MTB side! Perhaps he’ll be tempted by the challenge of SkiO …
This was yet another amazing evening hosted by Wiltshire Council and Wessex Chamber of Commerce. With 20 local businesses present and 6 Wiltshire athletes (the remaining 5 were away at major competitions), it was a great opportunity to meet new people, be in awe of the other athletes, and network with the sponsors and supporters of the event.
The great thing about this award, is that it funds the county’s best athletes. Across Olympic, Paralympic and non Olympic sports, regardless of age or disability. It’s a grant for everyone, provided they are racing at national level or higher and show a desire to work hard and progress. In a way, the grant equalises sports, putting them on a level playing field. A World Champion from a Paralympic or non Olympic sport is just as worthy and achieving as a World Champion from an Olympic sport. The grant ranks athletes by performance, not performance dependant on sport size/popularity. Many other grants focus on under 18’s, or just paralympic sports, not to mention Sport England grants to National Governing Bodies to fund their athletes. (Although MTBO comes under British Orienteering officially, MTBO doesn’t see a penny of funding. Even I, multiple WOC medallist, receive zero support or coaching input from BOF (it’s not all about the money; I don’t even get anti-doping advice). All the money goes to FootO to fund a once-in-5-years medal).
It’s refreshing to see a grant that is diverse and unbiased, and continuing to grow each year. Such is the success of this award, that the Council have introduced a second £500 award to those athletes starting out in a sport who show potential to improve. This is also great to see, and it provides a necessary and important source of funding to the ‘grass roots’ and developing athletes.
It’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase MTBO, and there is always a huge amount of interest. From the MuleBarGirl day to the Wiltshire Council FFOP evening, everyone is curious about MTBO. I only wish there was a more positive outlook in the UK for the sport. Attending events like these make me realise we have a really marketable and exciting sport. Yes, it’s necessary to make some changes, but I believe with the right attitude we can market and promote MTBO to a wider audience and ensure the sport’s continued growth.
Simple changes such as allowing some GPS devices to be carried would open up the sport to GPS company sponsorship. Currently, a company such as Garmin, would have no interest in sponsoring orienteering as it’s against the rules to carry a GPS!
Hans Jørgen and I were sat on a table with CGI, one of the evening’s gold sponsors, who have a branch in Norway! I spent time talking about MTBO and how it works (I really must start carrying a map with me wherever I go!). As anyone involved in the orienteering sports understands, first we must erase the image of school days, walking around a muddy playing field in wellies looking for a pin punch using a black and white map, before rebuilding the orienteering image with one that is competitive, exciting, and worthy to be called an adventure sport. Attempted pronunciation of HJ’s name provided the most entertainment for the evening!
It was a wonderful evening to be a part of, and I can’t thank the generous companies who supported the event enough. And special thanks must go the amazing Jane Scott of Wiltshire Council for dreaming up and developing such a fantastic concept, with the aid of Tamzin and Jerry.
As a final note, ex Foot Orienteer Becky Hoare, now Ironman Triathlete (representing GBR at the World Champs in Kona), also received an award this year!
It was another late evening home at 1am, and not to be the last as the following day saw chaos at Gardermoen (due to unexpected snow of all things) and HJ’s plane was delayed 8 hours!