Maggie Alfonsi and Natasha Hunt spoke movingly of what winning the 2014 women's Rugby World Cup meant to them last night as Rayner Essex presented SportsAid awards to two of London’s brightest sporting prospects.
Triple jumper Stefan Amokwandoh, 18 from Selsdon near Croydon, and rower Lola Anderson, 17 from Twickenham, each received a cheque for £1000 from Rayner Essex partner Tim Sansom to help them with the rising cost of their sports as they pursue their Olympic ambitions.
"This will help me so much," Stefan said to 90 guests in the courtyard of BMA House. "It will help me to be able to train, it will help me with the travel costs of getting to training, with competitions, and to be able to get the equipment I need."
Lola, who is competing at today's Henley Royal Regatta in Oxfordshire, said the support will enable her to keep competing at the national and international level. "It will really help to support my training and all its financial burdens," she added.
Maggie and Natasha both had SportsAid’s support themselves early in their careers and agreed that the awards would have a big impact.
"It makes such a difference," Maggie explained. "I remember getting funding from SportsAid a long time ago and it allowed me to get the kit I needed for my rugby and get into the sport. Coming from a council estate and a single-parent family it made a big difference and I know it is really influential for a young athlete to get that help."
The World Cup winners spoke of the growing momentum they see in British sport, particularly in women's sport, which Natasha says began at the last Olympics.
"I think 2012 was the springboard," she said. "Then off the back of that we had the Commonwealth Games, the women’s rugby World Cup last summer and now the women’s football in Canada, and the main difference for me is actually the media attention that’s generating the interest, so everyone is getting behind it. The amount of interest we’ve had that’s been generated from us winning the World Cup has been phenomenal."
Both players hope to compete at the next Olympic Games in Rio but despite rugby making its debut there next year, if they are successful it will be in different sports. While Natasha hopes to remain a part of the England sevens squad - after helping to secure the team's place in Rio earlier this year - now that Maggie has retired from the game her focus has switched to shot putt.
"Qualifying for the Olympics was incredible," Natasha said. "Especially the way we did it in the last minute of the last game, by a point. But you just can’t get too excited. I’ve tried to keep myself grounded all the time because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know who’s coming through, what injuries you might pick up, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t in the back of my mind.
"I'll be taking it one tournament at a time," she added.
Before then of course the world's top men's rugby teams will be in action in England at the 2015 World Cup which kicks off on September 18. Natasha says she hopes to be at Twickenham for England's big pool game against Australia while Maggie will be a member of ITV's commentary team.
"It’s fantastic that the World Cup is coming to England," she said. "Although the team is in an incredibly strong pool, especially with Wales and Australia being in form, I think England have every chance to go on and win it. The home support will make a big difference and I think whoever wins that pool will go on and win the World Cup. An England-New Zealand final would be fantastic."
Interviews and photographs
Call Simon Worsfold at SportsAid on 020 7273 1978 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please credit Andy Wright whenever using the photos supplied with this story.
SportsAid helps young sports people to overcome the financial challenges they face in their bid to become Britain’s next generation of Olympians and Paralympians. The charity’s patron is Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge. Some of the best known former SportsAid recipients are Sir Chris Hoy, David Weir CBE, Mo Farah CBE, Dame Sarah Storey, Jessica Ennis-Hill CBE, Ellie Simmonds OBE, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE, Sir Ben Ainslie, Jonnie Peacock MBE, Tom Daley, Ade Adepitan MBE and Sir Steve Redgrave.