Talking Sport: The Sussex stars who can inspire us all

Lauren Jones is an inspiration
Lauren Jones is an inspiration

This year I was honoured to be asked to provide the press & PR support for the Sussex Sports Awards, held in Brighton, writes Craig Peters.

As we quickly approach the start of 2012, the build-up and anticipation for the London Olympic Games in the summer has intensified, and you could feel that running through the bones of each future Olympian in attendance – of which there were many.

With the awards aiming to recognise the achievements of individuals and clubs that have made contributions to Sussex sport over the past year, I was taken aback at some of the inspiring tales on show which gave me goose bumps throughout the evening.

There is a hot-bed of sporting talent in this county, not to mention a crop of individuals whose own rousing and inspirational stories can humble you in an instant.

Take Lauren Jones for example. Worthing-based Lauren was crowned the 2011 Disabled Sports Personality of the Year at this year’s awards. She broke her back at the age of 13, sadly ending a promising football career having just got through trials for Brighton & Hove Albion FC.

After undergoing two operations and five months in rehab, she instantly headed back to the sports centre to try new things; with wheelchair tennis her sport of choice. Within just two months she was sent for Paralympic trials at Brunel University.

She has since participated in several tournaments and was offered a place on the GB development course by the LTA, the tennis governing Body, by mid-2010. Lauren has now reached No1 in junior GB girls and is ranked No7 in the world. And get this - Lauren is just 16 years old.

With such an old head on young shoulders, she is wise, mature and a true role model for us all. She has turned something which was so tragic into a truly inspirational story which you could quite easily see replicated in Hollywood blockbusters. When you are in her presence you feel as if you could talk to her for hours. She instantly motivates you.

Then there’s Alex Mills-Barton. If you are ever involved in sport, you will know instantly when you are in the presence of someone who is going to ‘make it’ and is on the verge of greatness.

When I played with Gareth Barry for young Brighton and Sussex teams, you just knew he was going to head to the top without a shadow of doubt. Alex Mills-Barton is the same. He is going to win several medals at future Olympic Games - I have no doubt at all. Alex is just 20.

He has already stunned his peers with various record-breaking achievements. He finished the UK Spring Senior World & European qualification events with a win in Pwllheli, the first youth sailor to do so for 18 years. April saw him win gold at the UK National Youth Championships with a day to spare, posting five race wins over the week-long 11-race event.

In June he stunned his colleagues and showed his potential with a second and fourth on the penultimate day of Skandia Sail for Gold against the World’s best in Weymouth. He is currently in Perth, Australia as part of a four-man crew competing in the ISAF Sailing World Championships – this plays host to World’s best sailors. This is just to name but a few of his achievements to date.

This year he has been challenging for a shot at London 2012, but he was just beaten by reigning Olympic Champion and much experienced, 32-year old Paul Goodison. But remember his name at the 2016 Games in Brazil, where he will be 24 and heading towards his peak.

This is just a selection of two from the 15 inspiring winners from the Sussex Sports Awards, not to mention the long, long list of nominees.

We are winding down from what’s been another tough economic year and the UK is quite often perceived as being in the doldrums. But with the vast amount of talent rising through our ranks across a range of sports gives us a lot to be optimistic about, not to mention the tales of blood, sweat and tears from the likes of Lauren Jones which should strike a chord with all of us.

We are a sporting nation. We pin our hopes on national teams and individuals. And for the next few Olympic Games at least, I don’t think we will be disappointed.

- Craig Peters (Osprey PR, 0844 826 3136, craig@ospreypr.com, www.ospreypr.com, @OspreyPR on Twitter)

What’s your view? Were you involved in the Sussex Sports Awards? Or are hoping to represent your country at a future Olympic Games? Email us at sport@chiobserver.co.uk