Barking and Dagenham sport stars hope to realise their Olympic dreams
PUBLISHED: 16:00 28 June 2012
As Londoners prepare to watch the greatest show on earth, the Post catches up with top sportsmen and women who will experience the Games at home and inside the Olympic Park this summer.
Judo ace Hayley Willis has her Olympic dream almost within her grasp.
When Team GB steps on to the judo mats at the ExCeL centre in Docklands on July 28, the 16-year-old from Dagenham will watch closely as her friends take on the world in a bid for Olympic glory.
The black belt, who won bronze at the South Africa junior world championships, will stay with the team every step of the way, observe their every move and throw inside the arena, ready to fight for the next Olympic round in Rio in 2016.
The young judoka will join the Olympic Ambition Team preparing top sportsmen and women for future Games.
Though members of the team will not compete in London, they will get a realistic feel of the Games and stay with the athletes in the Olympic village.
Hayley’s dad, judo coach Paul Willis, 47, said: “They take them to the Olympics. They’re given the same view, as if they were any athlete.
“What they do is to expose them to it. If she makes it to Rio she will already be exposed. I’m very proud of her.”
Hayley, of Ramsey Road, is also one of a dozen young athletes from Barking and Dagenham who has been receiving financial support through the Living the Dream Trust.
The Trust has amassed £100,000 since it was set up in 2007 and Barking and Dagenham Mayor Tony Ramsay is collecting funds for the charity this year.
Private business and individual donations have helped it achieve the landmark figure.
Another Olympic hopeful backed by the trust is Dagenham javelin thrower Kike Oniwinde.
Kike, 19, became one of the first athletes to compete inside the Olympic Stadium in Stratford recently when she took part in the British University Athletics Championships.
The Nottingham University student, from Dannette Gardens, finished third.
She said: “It was overwhelming.
“It’s a really nice stadium that thousands of people will be in and I was one of the first people to compete inside.
“The track is really fast and the atmosphere was nice.
“I’m looking at competing in Rio in 2016. If you’re not aiming for Rio, what are you aiming for, especially at my age?
“It’s all about progressing and believing in myself.
“Along the way there are other competitions: The Commonwhealth Games in 2014 and the World Games in 2015.
“Living the Dream has made a lot of difference. It’s great because not many people have this opportunity with an organisation that believes in sport and athletes.”
Living the Dream secretary Teresa Parish, 49, was a top basketball player and competed in the National League in her twenties.
She gained a place to play at the World Student Games at the time but could not join her fellow players because of lack of funding.
She said: “I probably would have gone with the funding. Who knows what would have happened?”
Another Trust protégé is swimmer Craig Moate, who was born without a hip and also has learning disabilities.
Craig, 27, of Movers Lane, Barking, holds four world records, in 800m and 1,500m swimming competitions.
Despite his record tally, Craig is likely to miss out the opportunity to compete in the 2012 Games because he his classified as having a learning disability, rather than a physical disability.
Events open to athletes registered as having a learning disability are for short swims, whereas those for people with physical disabilities include the longer events he excels at.
His parents have been pushing for a re-classification so he can compete as an athlete with a physical disability, but believe he now only has a very slim chance of taking part in the London Games.
The undeterred swimmer will probably watch the Olympics at home but is already setting his sights on the Rio Games.
He said: “I’m disappointed but I will try to give it my best. You never know what’s going to happen.
“I wish the athletes the best of luck.
“The trust makes a lot of difference to getting all the equipment and money.”
Teresa’s professional sporting career is behind her, yet she cannot wait until the opening ceremony, as she has been enrolled to volunteer for wheelchair users during the Olympics.
She said: “I will volunteer for two weeks at the Games. I love the fact I’m going to help make the event happen. It’s a great feeling.”
Living the Dream has helped around 30 promising athletes since its launch.
Some have gone on to compete in national squads, others picked up injuries in the lead-up to the Olympics and many are still furthering their sporting careers.
But Living the Dream is there for these athletes, helping them attend national training camps and competitions throughout the world.
Hayley’s dad, Paul, added: “Living the Dream has never turned us down. The pot is not that big but what’s in there can help a lot of people.”
Although the trust has collected £100,000 since 2007, around two thirds of the funds have yet to be allocated to rising sport stars in Barking and Dagenham.
Teresa added: “We have given over £34,000 in grants. We’ll continue in the legacy and help youngsters for Rio. It will continue to be there.”
n To help Barking and Dagenham athletes, call 020 8592 1549 log on to www.livingthedreambandd.org.uk.
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