Cyclist Fred Wright from Herne Hill and sprinter Daryll Neita from Lee, both 17, received a £2,000 boost to their sporting careers on Saturday when Sir Elton John CBE handed each of them a cheque from SportsAid to help them achieve their Olympic ambitions.
The donations are some of the first to come from SportsAid's new Elton John Sports Fund after the charity raised more than £300,000 at an acclaimed concert by the artist at Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire on Saturday June 28.
The fund will support some of Britain's brightest prospects from more than 50 sports by providing annual awards of £2,000 to help with essential training and competition costs.
"I never in my life thought I would meet Elton John," Daryll said. "It was a special night and so good for him to have such an interest in my sport and my career and to be able to share that with him. It was also great that he wanted to donate his time and support to us as the next generation and to see that he has such a genuine interest in our future.
"I feel really privileged," she added. "Being nominated for this award I feel like 'wow', I've done something to impress other people who have now taken an interest in my career, so I feel really lucky to be one of the first five. It's amazing to be part of the first selection of athletes and to be recognised in this way. Having this extra cash is a godsend."
Fred said, "The support will really help to take a lot of the pressure off my parents who have to pay for a lot of kit and travel. In a sport like cycling there's a lot of kit involved and the cost of the bikes of course, so it will help a lot. In a few weeks I'm travelling up to the national track championships and it will definitely help with that and all the travel costs."
He added, "When I heard I'd been selected for the award and that there were only five of us I was quite shocked because I thought there would be more but it is a real privilege to be one of them and that made speaking to Elton all the more special."
Elton John agreed, saying, "It was a special moment to meet Fred, Daryll and the other athletes. Their successes are already very impressive, and with a little extra help and recognition who knows what they could go on to achieve. They are the reason we were all at Stoke Park for the concert. Working with SportsAid, we know we are helping the right athletes at the right time."
Showing their support at the concert were many of SportsAid's former beneficiaries including Steve Redgrave, Katherine Grainger, Keri-Anne Payne, Ade Adepitan, Mark Foster, Derek Redmond, Gail Emms, Duncan Goodhew, Danny Crates, Anna Watkins, Mark Hunter, Zac Purchase, Richard Hounslow, Sarah Winckless, Shelley Rudman, Heather Stanning, Karen Pickering, Beth Rodford and Steve Williams.
Speaking to some of the guests before the concert Zac Purchase said, "I remember receiving my first SportsAid Award as a young athlete and it is one of those wonderful moments in life when someone turns around to you and says, 'you know what, we think you could be good'. And now you look back at SportsAid's alumni and how many of them go on to achieve great things, and it just goes to show that SportsAid gets it so right when selecting which athletes to support, giving them the confidence boost to go out and perform even better in the future."
Towards the end of a superb performance that included the classics Your Song, Rocket Man and Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Elton John said to the crowd of 5,000 fans, "Thanks to your support we will be able to fund young athletes for the next eight years to help make their dreams come true. Thank you!"
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- Caption: Elton John with SportsAid athletes (left to right) Molly Harding, Daryll Neita, Fred Wright, James Arnott and Holly Hibbott (credit: SportsAid/Ingrid Abery).
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Background on SportsAid
- SportsAid is a national charity (#1111612), established in 1976, which helps young British
sportsmen and women who aspire to be our next Olympic, Paralympic, Commonwealth or world champions.
- SportsAid's patron is Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge.
- At London 2012 almost two-thirds of the British team were former recipients of SportsAid's support, winning 20 of Team GB's 29 gold medals and 27 of ParalympicsGB's 34 gold medals.
- The athletes supported by SportsAid are typically aged 12 to 18 and are among Britain's brightest hopes for the future.
- The SportsAid Awards they receive are funded by the charity's donors and supporters. They recognise the athletes' achievements and help them meet the high costs of training and competing, which they otherwise have to pay for themselves.
- SportsAid ensures the right people get the right help at the right time by working with the governing bodies of around 70 sporting disciplines to identify those with the greatest potential.
- As well as providing SportsAid Awards to help young athletes meet the cost of sport, SportsAid also manages the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS), which provides specialist services to athletes in higher or further education.