Sixteen-year-old rower Molly Harding from High Wycombe received a £2,000 boost to her sporting career on Saturday when Sir Elton John CBE handed her a cheque from SportsAid to help her achieve her Olympic ambitions.
The donation is one 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.
"It was an extreme privilege to meet the legendary Sir Elton John at the SportsAid event," Molly said. "Never would I have thought that I would be receiving this award, let alone receiving it from the man himself!
"It is a great surprise to me to be one of the first athletes chosen to benefit from this support," she added. "To know that SportsAid and others see this potential in me really gives me that encouragement to believe that I will be next.
"This support has come at a time that I need it most. With events that I'm hoping to be selected for such as the world junior rowing championships, I'm going to need this money to help pay for the costs of travelling."
Elton John said, "It was a special moment to meet Molly 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."
Also at the event were many of SportsAid's former beneficiaries including rowers Steve Redgrave, Katherine Grainger, Anna Watkins, Mark Hunter, Zac Purchase, Sarah Winckless, Heather Stanning, Beth Rodford and Steve Williams. Molly said meeting them was one of the highlights of her night. "They really made me feel like I was the star of the event!" She explained. "The whole experience was very overwhelming."
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."
Other SportsAid alumni showing their support at the concert were Keri-Anne Payne, Ade Adepitan, Mark Foster, Derek Redmond, Gail Emms, Duncan Goodhew, Danny Crates, Richard Hounslow, Shelley Rudman and Karen Pickering.
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.