Ray Wilkins MBE has presented Mari Durward-Akhurst, [23], from Amersham in Buckinghamshire, with a cheque for £1,000 on behalf of SportsAid’s Bucks Sporting Lunch Club, which was held on Friday 20 October 2017 at Dorney Lake.

Created in 2011, the club of which Steve Perry, B P Collins is a trustee, is a way for local individuals, businesses and trusts to raise money to help with training, travel or equipment costs for young, talented athletes in Buckinghamshire.

Mari has cerebral palsy with increased ataxia which affects all four limbs. As a result of this, her coordination, balance and muscle tone are all affected. Mari explains:

“I am weaker down my left side and sadly over the last couple of years my condition has deteriorated and I now use a walking stick all the time and a wheelchair or scooter.”

However, Mari’s commitment and dedication to her training programme at Windmill Farm in Chalfont St Giles, impressed her national governing body and SportsAid when selecting potential grant recipients:

‘I ride for 20 minutes maximum as that is all my body can cope with. But my mum and trainer ride the horses for me so they are worked on a regular basis. I have two lessons a week with my trainer Rob Waine, go to the gym and carry out my exercise programme six times a week. It’s quite intense.’

Mari’s training seems to be paying off, as she is already a Grade 1 Gold National Champion after competing with her horse Sky O’Hara, in September 2017. She also was second behind a triple Paralympic gold medallist at Hartpury 3* International in July this year and is 19th in the world rankings for her grade.

The award money will cover her entry to the British Dressage Nationals and the cost of her trainer at competitions. Mari has ambitions to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and to win a gold medal and looks to Helen Kearney, para rider for Ireland, as her inspiration. Her family are also fully behind her as Mari adds:

“My family, my mum and dad have always been around to help and support me. My sister, even though she lives across the other side of the world, is a true inspiration to me. But my mum is my greatest influence, as she has been through so much but never stops fighting. We are one very determined family.”

Steve Perry, B P Collins, a trustee of Bucks Sporting Lunch Club, said:

“Mari’s story is very inspiring. Her determination to succeed and her achievements impressed all of us. She is a very deserving winner. I’m delighted that the Bucks Sporting Lunch Club award could hopefully take her one step closer to Tokyo 2020.”

Mari received her award from Ray Wilkins MBE, Sky Sports pundit, former England footballer, and former manager at QPR and Fulham FC, who went on to win the Premiership when assistant manager at Chelsea FC. 

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