PARALYMPIC hopeful, Sally Brown, ended a magnificent season when winning the 2011 SportsAid ‘One-to Watch’ award at the charity’s annual Sports Ball in London on Wednesday evening and 2012 promises to be even better for the talented Ballykelly sprinter!
SIMON COLLINS reports
Following in the footsteps of previous winners, British diving sensation, Tom Daley and current European junior ‘athlete of the year’, Jodie Williams, the 16 year-old Co. Derry girl pipped 2,000 other top young athletes to claim the prestigious accolade.
And the talented 200m and 100m sprinter is hoping the funding and support which comes hand-in-hand with the award will prove to be a platform for significant success as she sets her sights on qualifying for the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
No stranger to success already, having began 2011 with a remarkable bronze medal in the 200m (T46) at the IPC World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Springwell A.C member went on to win silver in the same event at the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester.
And Sally - who was born with left arm Dysmelia - ended the season at the IWAS World Junior Championships in Dubai last April where she won another silver medal in the Under-23 100m (T46) and a gold in the Under-23 200m (T46).
Her outstanding achievements in the sport led to her being shortlisted for the SportsAid award along with 12 other rising stars in the British Athletics scene, and when her name was announced at Wednesday’s ceremony it came a major surprise for the local girl.
“It was amazing,” said Sally last night. “I wasn’t expecting it to be such a big event and I didn’t expect to win it at all.
“I knew I was shortlisted and that was even a surprise when I found out. I was just happy to be there. And when they announced me as the winner I was really surprised because there was so many talented people in the UK and to be selected as one of the best is pretty amazing. This has given me a lot of confidence for next season.”
Many of Britain’s most successful athletes are SportsAid alumni, including Sir Chris Hoy; Sir Steve Redgrave; Paula Radcliffe MBE; Dame Kelly Holmes and WBA, WBO light-welterweight champion, Amir Khan among others.
So to be listed among so many superstars in the sport that have benefited from the SportsAid charity, Sally was honoured to receive her award from Dame Mary Peters on the night.
“I’m really honoured. There’s so much talent in the UK and to be chosen as the One-to-Watch is amazing,” she added.
“It’s going to help an awful lot because SportsAid are going to be funding me and that will help with travel and other stuff because I live in N. Ireland and have to go over to England quite a lot, so the money will go towards paying for flights. It’s just going to make life a lot more easier and I’ll be able to concentrate on my running.”
Sally surpassed all expectations this season and it was her bronze medal in the IPC World Championships in New Zealand last January which gave her the confidence to go and achieve so much success.
“Last season was amazing and I didn’t expect to do as well as I did. I’d say my highlight was Christchurch definitely because I just didn’t expect to medal there but it was pretty good to get a silver and gold in Dubai as well,” she laughed.”
Having already achieved the qualifying times for the London Paralympics next year, the focus is now on maintaining those times and Sally is confident she can return to the English capital and claim a medal in her favoured 200m event.
“I’ve got the qualifying times for the Olympics already so it’s just a case of re-doing those times next season but it’s going to be a lot of training and getting ready for the indoors.
“I’d like to think I would be able to medal but it’s all about what happens on the day. If everything goes well this winter in training I’d like to think I would be able to medal.
“I would definitely like to get to the London 2012 Paralympics next year and even medal at it, but I will have to see how the season goes.”
SportsAid helps talented young disabled and able-bodied athletes to achieve their ambitions and since 1976, the charity has distributed around £50 million to aspiring athletes throughout Britain and N. Ireland.
SportsAid’s Chief Executive Tim Lawler said: “Our annual One-to-Watch Award recognises the UK’s best performing young sportsperson and Sally is a worthy winner.
“She has shown immense dedication to her sport and enjoyed some fantastic medal-winning performances as a result.
“When you look at the potential within young people like Sally, it highlights how important it is for us to support talented athletes like her.
“Many of the athletes in action at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games next year will have had a helping hand from SportsAid and there is every chance that Sally will be one of them,” he added.