A small girl in the Manchester Aquatics Centre stands at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, six years later Rebecca Adlington stood shoulder to shoulder with Olympic giants.
Adlington knows motivation and inspiration inside out and on the back of a double Olympic gold-winning career, which she added to with two bronze medals at the London 2012 Games, the 25-year-old is keen to return some of those good vibes.
The Mansfield swimmer has her own grass roots programme to find future talent though, given she’s not one for shying away from anything, Adlington took a trip to Trafford Soccer Dome on Friday to try handball as part of the Join In Summer Relay, a nationwide campaign to put more volunteers into community sport.
Manchester Handball Club were grateful for her presence. The club would not be alive if it were not for the many volunteers who roll through their doors, people who are desperate for sport in general to survive in Manchester following the Commonwealth Games 12 years ago as the nation continues to reap the benefits of the 2012 Olympics some 200 miles further south.
No one knows this better than Adlington.
“Manchester and the Commonwealth Games is where my inspiration came from,” she told MM.
“I was only 13 at the time and my parents got me tickets. We went along, I sat in the stands and watched swimming, obviously.
“I remember thinking ‘This is awesome’ and then thinking this is what I want to do. This is my passion. So it gave me that spark and that insight that I really needed.”
Spark, insight, passion and more. Not an ounce of energy was wasted by Adlington while in the pool as she racked up not only her four Olympic medals but also six world championships podiums in long and short course competitions, including her 2008 Manchester gold in the 800metres freestyle.
Now categorically away from the pool in a competitive sense, Adlington can tell you all you need to know about the value of volunteers.
“My career would never have happened,” was her response to being asked what might have become of her swimming talent if she had had no coaching or no unpaid help.
“Handball and swimming are very similar. The parents who have swum or competed have grown up and are still there at the clubs,” she said.
“They’re the treasurers, they’re the timekeepers at the weekends, they’re the ones bringing people water and tea,” added Adlington, whose parents used to timekeep when she was growing into an elite-level swimmer.
“When you’re part of sport you realise the importance of volunteers. People not part of sport have perhaps not been part of a club.
“Take the Olympics as an example, the Gamesmakers at London 2012 were such a huge part. The rest of the country woke up and thought ‘Oh my god we really do need volunteers’. And they do make a difference.”
Adlington is well aware she’s just helping people out. She’s not going hugely out of her way or doing anything truly special like “saving lives.”
But the effect the Olympian may have on budding young talent in England’s pools, through her own learn-to-swim programme, could be a lasting one.
“I was in Wilmslow yesterday and I love chatting to the parents and seeing the kids so happy,” she said.
“If you get it right at grass roots level it makes the coaches’ jobs a lot easier as they progress and possibly head to the elite side.”
Adlington has lived in Manchester for nearly two years now, loves the buzz and the phenomenal sporting scene and is one happy lady.
Her greatest rush? Heading to watch Manchester Phoenix on weekends.
“I like going to an ice hockey game on Saturday night or something like that. I don’t know anything about the players but I love the atmosphere.”
If you’re no ice hockey fan but would love to pit your skills as a volunteer, visit www.joininuk.org for further information and to find local opportunities.
Main image courtesy of speedouk via YouTube, with thanks.