Two SportsAid grants have been presented at the Bucks Sporting Lunch Club, which took place at Dorney Lake on Friday 11th October 2019.
Amersham’s Mari Akhurst (25), a para dressage rider who is the first ever recipient to receive two SportsAid grants from the Lunch Club, and Daisy Kennedy (17) a golfer from Hazlemere, were both presented with their £1,000 grants by the current England cricket batting coach, Graham Thorpe MBE.
Mari has cerebral palsy which affects movement in all of her limbs. Her condition has deteriorated over the past couple of years since accepting her last SportsAid grant in 2017 and she is now a full-time wheelchair user.
Despite this setback, Mari was selected to represent GB at the Para Dressage European Championships in Rotterdam in August 2019 – her first senior championship, where she won a Silver medal. The Sportsaid grant will enable her to compete in Keysoe CPEDI3* in October an International competition in Bedfordshire where Mari has been selected to represent GB with her horse Bear. With more competitions under her belt, Mari is getting closer to her aim of competing in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
After receiving the grant at the event, Mari, who cites Helen Kearney (Grade 1 Para Dressage rider), as her hero said:
“Horses are my life and my legs and together we excel. They never judge me, and we have a lot of fun together. They are the reason I get out of bed every day. Having been on that medal podium once, I want to be on it again but this time in the middle with the national anthem playing. I have to keep training hard so that I can make my ultimate dream become a reality.”
Grantee Daisy Kennedy’s golfing achievements, which include three U16 international matches for England, are all the more remarkable, considering she suffered three strokes less than a year ago, as a result of her colitis. The strokes caused Daisy to lose all movement down the left-hand side of her body.
“My biggest challenge was to get strong and return to the golf course as soon as possible. I’m playing competitions again, but initially it was really scary. Despite this I was determined my colitis which makes me really tired, wasn’t going to beat me. I’m still battling my illness every day but in the future I’d like to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LGPA) tour. My grant will help me to buy new clubs which will be essential for training and help me to reach my goal.”
Chris Newell, said at the event:
“We couldn’t help but be utterly impressed by these young people’s stories. Their commitment and dedication to training and their sheer perseverance, all while overcoming huge adversity is nothing short of incredible. They deserve to succeed, and I’m delighted that their grants will go some way to helping them to realise their ambitions to be Buckinghamshire’s answer to Helen Kearney and Rory McIlroy on the world stage.”
Graham Thorpe MBE, who was part of the One Day squad that won the Cricket World Cup and appeared in 100 test matches said:
“Mari and Daisy’s stories are so inspiring. Being at the top of your game is hard, but with their positive attitudes and complete dedication, I’ve no doubt that they will go far and achieve their ambitions.”
Mark Ormerod, Chairman of SportsAid Eastern, said:
“We were again delighted to see so many key Buckinghamshire organisations supporting two local athletes. In particular the support we have received from our corporate sponsors over the past 8 years has had a huge impact on helping the county's most talented youngsters on their journey. When you consider 76% of medallist at the Rio Olympic and Paralympics had received support from SportsAid, local business really do see a great return from their investments. If businesses are interested in becoming involved, regardless of your size, please connect us.”
Notes to editors
Further information about Mari
• Mari became a European Silver team medallist this year and International Champion at Hartpury CPEDI3*, beating a Paralympian twice in 2018 and was one of 12 riders to receive the criteria for the World Equestrian Games.
• She has also won the Para Gold National Championships held at the British Dressage Nationals for the last two years.
• Her progress can be followed on: www.facebook.com/MariDurwardAkhurstParaDressage/
Further information about Daisy
• On top of winning three international matches for England, Daisy has also won the England Schools competition and the North of England (U16) Girls’ Open. She part of the U18 national squad achieving top ten finishes in national competitions.
• Her progress can be followed on Instagram @Daisy kennedy_ and on Twitter: @dkennedygolf