The medal haul from the Rio Olympics and Paralympics in Brazil was an amazing feat and many of our winning athletes praised the help and encouragement they had from all quarters with some of them receiving support from Rotary. I tracked down a couple of them to find out how Rotary has helped and to find out a little more about how they achieved their dream.
Paralympian Alfie Hewett, from Cantley near Norwich came to the attention of his local Rotary clubs at the age of 16 when he was at Acle Academy and had won a string of junior tennis titles. Amongst which included the World Junior Masters champion both in singles and doubles in 2013.
A number of Rotary clubs across East Anglia had raised money with their Wheelie Good Idea campaign, which involved taking a sponsorship book around all of the clubs in East Anglia using unorthodox wheels to travel from venue to venue, and yes some did use wheelie bins.
As a result of his local fame Alfie was sponsored by The Rotary Club of Broadlands to receive a special wheelchair from WheelPower and this was presented to him in December 2013 funded partly by the Wheelie Good Idea.
Alfie Hewett then went on in the next few years to win many titles using his bespoke lightweight aluminium wheelchair. Amongst them are singles titles in Italy, Germany and Spain in 2015, and then to crown all this, with his double partner Gordon Reid, they took the doubles championship at Wimbledon. To top it all off he then went on to win silver in both the singles and doubles at Rio.
However before Alfie left for Rio De Janerio word got out that he needed a new day wheelchair and five clubs in East Anglia came to the rescue with Rotarian Trevor Sayer commenting, “It really shows the power of Rotary. Alfie is well known across the local clubs and we realised his talent with him winning so many titles recently so we wanted to help.”
Alfie, who is now ranked eight in the cccmen’s world singles wheelchair tennis and spends a good deal of his time in the USA, received his new wheelchair just before departing for Rio and said, “I love it! It fits well and I’m getting used to the feel of it so a massive thank you to Rotary.”
Across from East Anglia in the Midlands another athlete was being encouraged by Rotary. The nation’s interest in the Rio Olympics was sparked right at the start when a reasonably unknown swimmer, Adam Peaty, shot to the notice of the world when he broke the world record in the 100m breaststroke heat and then went on to win Great Britain’s first gold medal of the Olympics.
Adam, who also took the silver medal when the British men’s team came second in the 4 x 100m relay, comes from Uttoxeter and has had an association with the Rotary Club of Uttoxeter for some years.
With various connections, and eventually through the club and his family, I caught up with this very busy young man. Of course I started by congratulating him on his remarkable achievement.
Adam commented, “Thank you! Representing your country on the greatest stage on earth is a huge honour, and winning the first gold medal for Great Britain in Rio was an incredible moment for me and will live on in my memory forever.”
We then went on to discuss the fact that his was the first win for Team GB which must have set the whole team alight with enthusiasm and encouraged the rest of the team to go out and win for their country.
They supported me in the early days so it’s nice to able to thank them and stay involved.”
He told me, “I think winning the first gold at the Olympics is huge for your country. It gets the ball rolling and there’s less pressure on the other athletes and Team GB as a whole. I think it helped with momentum and inspired belief within the team, showing the world that Great Britain is a country to be reckoned with. Also I think for the athletes it gives them a bit of a boost as they see you win gold and it makes them want to win even more.”
Coming back to his hometown I asked Adam what effect his winning has had locally, especially amongst younger people’s attitude to sport and their motivation to follow him, Adam replied, “The local club has had an influx of young people wanting to start swimming which is great. We’ll need to ask the same question in four years time and hopefully we’ll see the same attitude and motivation in many years to come.
“The homecoming celebration in Uttoxeter was amazing and it was great to see the impact – for them and for me – so I really hope the positive vibe continues.”
We talked about his association with the Rotary Club of Uttoxeter and Adam told me, “They supported me in the early days so it’s nice to be able to thank them and stay involved. I gave a short talk at the club in 2014 and it’s been great to get members’ views on Uttoxeter. I think it’s interesting for them too to get my perspective on things as a sportsperson.”
It was Adam’s achievement as a sportsperson that inspired the club to award him a Paul Harris Fellowship at a recent charter dinner and I asked him what he felt about it, “It means a lot because it’s a highly prestigious award and I want to keep that connection with the local community. It motivates me even more to work even harder as I want to make the club proud.”
These are both wonderful examples of Rotary taking action in the community and making an impact by really being involved. Rotarians do great work in their local community and being part of the success is set to continue.