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Talented Athletes Fund offers boost for Martha Harris, Meg McFarlane and Solomon Okrafo Smart

Three young sports stars from the Advertiser area will benefit from a share of a fund worth £21,000.

Wheelchair tennis player Martha Harris, from Bingham, figure skater Meg McFarlane, from Ompton, near Ollerton, and tri-athlete Solomon Okrafo–Smart, from Cotgrave, were all successful applicants in this year’s Talented Athletes Fund.

The grant, which is part of Nottinghamshire County Council’s local improvement scheme, offers financial help to help with expenses such as travel, coaching, competition fees and kit.

Martha Harris at the National Wheelchair Tennis Championships. Credit: LTA (44948175)
Martha Harris at the National Wheelchair Tennis Championships. Credit: LTA (44948175)

Sixteen-year-old Harris is ranked second internationally and is the top seed nationally and regionally.

The wheelchair tennis star has osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly known as brittle bone disease.

Her condition often means time away from the court, but she doesn’t let it stand in her way, as she said she had become adept at training while injured.

It includes every day sessions such as practising her serve with a dog ball thrower and even learning how to play while in an air boot or cast.

Determined to keep up her skills and training during the lockdowns, Harris treats the restrictions in place the same way she would any enforced period of being unable to play due to injury, focussing on drill work and strength and conditioning training.

Harris said: “I’m excited that my application was successful as I can have more coaching before a summer of tournaments.”

Harris said she planned to also continue to raise funds for charities that promote inclusion in tennis, having recently raised more than £650 for the Dan Maskell Trust — the wheelchair squad she trains with.

She said she hoped to be able to complete her level one coaching course this year, once restrictions are lifted.

Meg McFarlane (44855187)
Meg McFarlane (44855187)

Seventeen-year-old McFarlane is best known for winning silver at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Sweden last year.

She said the restrictions placed on ice skating during the lockdown had been extremely challenging and made it a struggle to cope with the break in routine.

McFarlane is currently focussing on off-ice coaching via Zoom meetings and working on her strength and fitness as much as possible so she’s ready for when the rinks reopen.

Solomon Okrafo-Smart (44855191)
Solomon Okrafo-Smart (44855191)

Fifteen-year-old triathlon athlete Okrafo–Smart said he had not let injuries, or the lockdowns, get in the way of his training or studies.

Okrafo–Smart said: “I am GCSE year and therefore I have had to be self-motivated during the months at home to enable me to keep on top of my studies as well as my training regime.

“I have also encouraged other family members to get out to run and cycle including my disabled sister who now has a tricycle.

“This funding means a lot to me as paying out for equipment over my three disciplines can be costly. I hope to buy a much-needed new wet suit.”

Councillors have approved funding, worth up to £400 each, for athletes across 20 different sports. The scheme has awarded a combined total of £63,000 in 275 grants since its inception back in 2018.

John Handley, vice-chairman of communities and place committee at the county council, said: “I am delighted that we are, once again, able to support our fantastic local athletes.

“While our funding only provides a proportion of what is required when competing at such an elite sporting level, I know it is gratefully received by our young athletes and their families.

“Nottinghamshire has a strong sporting heritage. The volume and high standard of applications received for this latest round of funding further cements our reputation as a sporting county.”

To find out more about the fund visit: https://www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/talentedathletes

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