Tilly Brown might only be 14-years-old, but she has big dreams to one day represent Great Britain at the Olympics.
Brown is a diver from Cranleigh, and one of 50 young athletes being supported again this year by Royal Bank of Canada through SportsAid, a national charity founded in 1976. SportsAid helps more than 1,000 young British athletes annually as they endeavour to reach the top of their sport on the international stage.
These rising stars represent a diverse group of athletes who are considered among the country's best prospects in 34 sports disciplines. The winners, who range from 14 to 23-years-old, were nominated by their sport's respective national governing bodies to receive a £1,000 award to help with expenses.
Athletes are often on the road, travelling long distances for training and competition. Brown says she travels to Southampton several times a week to train, spending as much as five hours after school practicing.
In addition to the financial help, the programme pairs the young athletes with RBC employees to serve as mentors and supporters.
RBC staff have helped raise over £500,000 through fundraising efforts for SportsAid since 2013, when the partnership began. Last year, at the RBC Ride for the Kids event, a team of 47 mostly bank employees, biked for 184 miles, from London to Bruges, raising more than £60,000 for SportsAid.
“We're very conscious of the challenges facing the athletes - the time commitments they make, trying to balance out school work with their sporting careers, being away from their families and the different pressures they feel around competitions and injuries," says Dave Thomas, CEO, RBC Capital Markets Europe and Head of RBC Wealth Management in London.
“The buddy scheme has also been hugely beneficial to both athletes and the RBC staff. None of us have the extreme talents that the athletes do in their chosen sports but we're able to act as a sounding board."
Double Paralympic champion Georgie Hermitage, who won two golds and a silver in athletics in Rio 2016, Commonwealth gold medallist Reuben Arthur and Manchester City Women's striker Lauren Hemp count among those who have benefited from RBC's support over the years. The bank's SportsAid efforts are part of its five-year Kid's Pledge, a CAD$100 million promise to help one million young people around the world.
“Yes, you do receive financial support and yes, you are recognised for your athletic prowess, but once you get involved in this set-up, you meet people who are passionate about helping you as a young person," says Commonwealth medallist Arthur.
This year, beneficiaries include 200m sprinter Shannon Hylton, who represented the UK at the World Championships in 2017, footballer Maya Le Tissier, gymnast Halle Hilton and para equestrian star Ilse Owen.
“We really do feel this is a joint venture where we have an understanding of what each other is trying to achieve," says Tim Lawler, SportsAid's chief executive. “It has energy, it has enthusiasm and it is evolving. It is definitely having the impact we always hoped it would."
SportsAid's overall success can been measured through its achievements in Rio 2016, where its alumni took home about 70 percent, or 150, of the UK team's medals across the Olympic and Paralympic Games.