Back L-R: Louise Lea, (Wightlink), Councillor John Hobart and Allan Bridges (1Leisure). Front: Poppy Bennett and Martha Eggleton

A scheme which supports the Isle of Wight’s most gifted sportspeople has announced its members for 2019.

A group of 74 athletes, aged from 8 to 80 representing 21 sports, have qualified for the Isle of Wight Council’s Talented Athlete Scheme, which provides support for promising athletes who are competing at county level or above.

Cross-Solent ferry operator, Wightlink, has once again renewed its support for the scheme, providing athletes with discounted travel for mainland training and events, along with Isle of Wight bus operator, Southern Vectis, which is also offering discounted rates to members.

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Athletes also receive free access to the council’s multi-million-pound 1Leisure Fitness facilities across the Island, as well as discounted sports psychology services from RMA Sports Injury Clinic and special rates at Love Running.

This year, skateboarding features in the scheme for the first time, with 8-year-old Martha Eggleton, from Whitwell, receiving support. As a Wight Trash team rider, she is due to compete in events around the country in the year ahead – once she has recovered from breaking her leg in five places this month.

More traditional sports such as dressage — under which 12-year-old Poppy Bennett is being supported — swimming, rugby, athletics and cricket are also represented this year, as well as more unusual sports such as flag football, land sailing and underwater hockey.

Cabinet member for environment and heritage, Councillor John Hobart, said:

“Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors — who include Cowes Chiropractic Clinic, Wightlink, Southern Vectis, the council’s 1Leisure service, RMA Sports Injury Clinic and Love Running — we are, once again, able to support budding sports stars on the Island.

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“The Talented Athlete Scheme takes some of the hassle out of sporting preparations in terms of using facilities, training, travelling, so they can concentrate on their sport and making the Island proud. I wish this year’s crop of budding athletes the very best of luck over the coming year and beyond.”

Stuart James, Wightlink’s marketing and innovation director, said:

“We are really proud to continue our support for the council’s Talented Athlete Scheme as we recognise the benefits it brings to Islanders pursuing their sporting dreams.

“Competing at such a level demands travel off the Island for competitions and training, so we are delighted to do our bit to support this group of gifted sportspeople with discounted cross-Solent travel.

“We have been hugely impressed with the commitment and dedication shown by all the athletes involved to date and continue to be amazed by the range of sports included in the scheme, from underwater hockey to skateboarding — which is included for the first time this year. We wish all the athletes the best of luck for the year ahead and look forward to sharing news of their successes on our Wightlink in the Community Facebook page.”

Budding golf star, 16-year-old Nick Matthews, said:

“Without the support I’ve received through the scheme it would be very hard to compete at this level due to the amount of mainland travel involved.

“The discount from Wightlink is a great help to me as I strive to improve at my sport and be the best I can be. The team at the council has been very supportive as I have progressed and I feel very proud to represent the Island in my sport.”

Last year’s programme helped 75 athletes, providing support worth an estimated £150,000, across 27 different sports.

The programme has supported several Island stars including Rio Olympics athlete Jessica Andrews (now Martin), Commonwealth Games hammer thrower Andrew Frost and discus thrower Nicholas Percy.

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