On Thursday 9 May, Chris Jones visited Vale of Aylesbury AC along with Club Support Manager Amy Frith and South East Regional Council Chair Julian Starkey. The club, based at Stoke Mandeville Stadium – home of the Paralympic movement – was established in 1893 and is rich in history.
After a fascinating look inside the National Paralympic Heritage Centre, Chris met with some of the very committed volunteers at Vale of Aylesbury AC including Graham Gorman, a lifelong member of the club (celebrating 50 years of club membership), who has seen the club change, develop and grow. Chris also met with Club Secretary, Clare Barker, who offered lots of insight to the club membership, the challenges the club faces, and its aspirations.
The bright blue track, infield and surrounding area was thriving on Thursday evening, with athletes of a range of ages and abilities training and enjoying the range of opportunities available to them. Among the members training were the Kestrels group, catering for u9 and u11 athletes and rotating around various disciplines throughout the evening. High achieving u23 sprint hurdler - recently selected to represent England at the Loughborough International - Jessica Hunter, was training alongside them, demonstrating what can be achieved by any aspiring young athlete training at the same club.
Chris met with Ruban Arulanandam, who coaches Long Jump, Triple Jump and High Jump at the club, and listened to how Ruban has been supported by the club and England Athletics to progress through the coaching pathway and provide great opportunities for people to participate in the sport he shares a rich passion for. Like many clubs, VoAAC needs more volunteers to support the club achieve its vision to cater for all ages and abilities and build a large community Athletics Club which helps its members to fulfil their dreams and ambitions. Indeed, right now, the club is seeking a new Chairperson to lead this long-established club, as well as looking for other volunteers to fulfil many important functions at the club. One new volunteer at the club we spoke to said “We have a great team of coaches and officials at VoAAC, but with a growing membership and a desire by the club to offer more opportunities to our members, we always need more coaches and coaching assistants to progress through the pathway.”
Following a club tour, the club visit concluded with a Q and A session, which focused largely on providing information around England Athletics affiliation benefits and support, and Coach Education.
The club's General Secretary Clare Barker commented, "The Vale of Aylesbury Athletic Club were really pleased to be able to host Chris, Julian and Amy for their recent visit. It great to meet them and was an enjoyable and informative evening, plus a great opportunity for them to see our athletes in action."
Chris Jones added, "It was a pleasure to visit the home of the Paralympic movement and the home of VoAAC to meet and talk with the important volunteers and to watch some of the aspiring young club athletes working hard, across a number of disciplines, to ultimately reach their goals. Without the work of the volunteers it would be impossible to support our sport as we know it, and this was again evident at Stoke Mandeville last week. I would also highly recommend that athletes and supporters of the sport take the time to visit the stadium to walk around the recently opened interactive Paralympic museum which is both educational and inspirational."
You can view a short video summary of the visit below.