Inspiring a Generation: The Athlete's Perspective
Published 23 July 2013
Today (23 July) the Culture Secretary Maria Miller announced that British Olympic and Paralympic athletes have made thousands of appearances in schools and communities since London 2012 to inspire the next generation, we heard from some of those athletes:
Etienne Stott, Canoeing Gold Medallist at London 2012, said: "I really enjoy visiting schools and sports clubs, it's one of my favourite parts of being an Olympic Champion. Everywhere I go, there is still such a huge buzz about the Games, kids and adults alike are still enthusiastic and keen to find an outlet for this energy. There is always such a positive vibe around at these visits, it always leaves me happy and energised myself!
"I don't necessarily expect to have an instant impact when I do these sorts of visits, I think getting into sport can be quite a gradual process, getting more and more keen and into it. I see myself trying to plant the seed of an idea in their mind, which one day might grow when an opportunity pops up. I think we've got to be patient, keep inspirational levels high and keep trying to provide opportunities to give people when they're ready.
Katherine Grainger at a National Lottery appearance
"It is really important for me to put what I can back into the sport. I love my sport, it has given me so much and I would like many others to have the chance to go on a journey like the one I've had. I remember when I was a kid starting out, I met some of my heroes and idols, and it had a profound effect on me. I thought that if they could do it, perhaps I could too. I see what I'm doing now as perpetuating that effect. It would be so cool to know that I have inspired people to take up my sport or any sport, it is such a good thing to get involved in. It is an honour to be a champion, but there are responsibilities too, and I take them very seriously."
Ellie Simmonds, Swimming Double Gold Medallist at London 2012, said: “London 2012 was such an incredible experience for me and I feel grateful that I am able to share my story with people that I meet. I always try to find time to work with young people whenever I can and hope that my success can inspire some of them to take up sport.”
Lizzie Armitstead, Cycling Silver Medallist and GB’s first medallist at London 2012, said: “I think it’s really important for elite athletes to be role models to the younger generation, and hopefully we can inspire youngsters to take up sport. I’m pretty busy with training and competing all over the world, but when I’m home I like to find time to work with young people. I recently met up with some young girls from a school in Bradford who had started cycling through British Cycling and Sky’s recreational programmes. It was great to see the girls enjoying their cycling and they now want to take on cycling volunteering and leadership roles within their community which is really great to see. London 2012 inspired the whole country last summer and we all have a role to play in keeping that going.”
Mel Clarke, Paralympic Archery Silver Medallist at London 2012, said: “Being able to share my photos, memories and to allow children to physically see, hold and touch my Olympic Torch and Paralympic medal has brought many smiles and started many conversations.
“Being able to introduce and encourage the next generation to choose sport is a great thing - whether they make it as elite athletes or not - trying to ensure that people in the future are fitter, stronger and healthier, looking after their bodies and choosing an active lifestyle has got to be worthwhile doing.
Jason Kenny at a National Lottery appearance
“There are many benefits to me as an athlete taking part in appearances and meeting and working with the 'next generation' is a great privilege. Getting to meet new people and introduce them to something, or share in an experience at a sports day or awards evening is fantastic.
“Some of the opportunities I have had and children I have met have been amazing - and as an athlete I think it’s true to say that the children have inspired me - to keep going, to train harder, and to re-live some of the childhood magic and smiles when talking to them or showing them a medal has been an incredible and humbling opportunity.”
Natasha Baker, Para-Equestrian Double Gold Medallist at London 2012, said: “It’s very important for me to share my journey, I think that a lot of people relate to me because of my age and when I’ve shown them my medals, it has been a massive inspiration to them – I know it was for me at that age and I think it’s really important to show everyone what it’s all about and to inspire the next generation.
“There’s been a massive difference in the school assemblies I was doing before last summer, compared to the ones I’ve been doing now. There was a lot of confusion as to what the Paralympics and particularly dressage was, whereas now there is a total change, and everyone’s heard of the ‘dancing horses’.”
Natasha Jonas, who boxed for Team GB at London 2012, said: "I think we all have a responsibility to give something back and one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an athlete is the chance to work with young people and get involved with initiatives to inspire the next generation to get into sport and pursue their ambitions."
Will Bayley, Disability Table Tennis Silver and bronze medallist at London 2012, said: "I think it is vital that athletes visit schools and colleges to talk about their experience as I feel it can inspire others to follow their dream."
Shelley Rudman, Skeleton World champion, said: “I’ve really enjoyed the visits to schools I have done this year and the young people have inspired me with their enthusiasm to keep working hard to achieve my goals. As an athlete I feel I have a responsibility to try and inspire the next generation and educate as much as possible about the benefits of sport. And as a mother myself, I know how important sport and physical activity is to young people’s health, so I’m delighted if I can do my bit to help encourage kids to get active.”
Imogen Cairns, 2008 and 2012 Olympian in Gymnastics, said: “Since the London Olympics it has been amazing to see the reaction of young gymnastics fans across the country. Working with my governing body I’ve attended several GymFusion events which see performers take part in non-competitive, show style festivals. It’s brilliant to see so many young people enjoying their gymnastics and hopefully by meeting some of their Olympic heroes we are inspiring them on to stay in the sport and keep enjoying it for years to come.”