Published: 12:54, 22 October 2021
| Updated: 16:24, 22 October 2021
Olympic gold medallist Kate French has paid tribute to the unsung volunteers who give up their time to help and inspire others.
The 30-year-old from Meopham, who won the Modern Pentathlon in Tokyo, was at the Gravesham Civic Awards last night where community leaders, volunteers and the borough's top athletes were recognised for their outstanding contribution to the borough.
Olympic gold medallist Kate French speaks about the importance of volunteers
Kate was there to pick up a Special Achievement Award but she spoke about how so many others had helped her achieve her dream, giving up their own time.
She said of volunteers: "It's really, really important. I think a lot of my after-school clubs were people volunteering just to help out, and at sports clubs getting younger children involved in sport but also, I think, a massive part has been at competitions. They [volunteers] are hugely, hugely important in running competitions and getting younger children into sport."
She also spoke of her pride of being a Gravesham girl, adding: "My roots are here. I don't think I would have got where I am today without the support from Gravesham and the clubs I've participated in here."
Earlier in the evening, as she collected her award, she recalled growing up in the area.
She said: "The reception since coming home has been amazing so, thank you very much for all your support.
"I lived here until I left for university at 18 and I was very grateful for all the sports clubs which were available here. I swam in Northfleet for many, many years and was part of the local pony club and also started fencing in Meopham.
"Without those opportunities I don't think I would have been able to participate in pentathlon."
When asked how she felt going into her final race in Tokyo, she said: "I was confident if I executed my race plan properly I was in contention for a medal, but I was going into the race probably as favourite and there was a lot of pressure on me, so I was really pleased to execute my race and shoot well."
Describing the moment she realised she'd won gold, she said: "It still feels very surreal, actually, and probably hasn't quite sunk in yet but it was just happiness that all the hard work over the years has paid off and I think a lot of relief as well that the competition was over because it was a very stressful time.
"It was a lot of emotion, but overall, yeah, a lot of joy."
As for her plans for the future, she said: "I think at the moment I'm just enjoying the opportunities that have came around since Tokyo.
"Looking ahead to the future, I think that I would love to be able to defend my title in Paris but it's a long way off, even though it is a year less than usual a lot of things can change so I'm just going to probably start competing later in the season next year and see what happens after that."
Other sporting stars, community leaders and volunteers were also recognised for their outstanding contribution to the borough at the Gravesham Civic Awards.
Held at The Woodville last night (Thursday), the awards were hosted by Mayor of Gravesham Cllr Lyn Milner and the chief executive of Gravesham council, Stuart Bobby.
Welcoming guests, Cllr Milner explained the evening was an opportunity to thank those whose contributions to the borough had gone unacknowledged because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: “Lockdown and other Covid-19 restrictions meant we were unable to hold our last two Annual Council meetings, events at which traditionally we recognise the work of our outgoing Mayors and appoint Freemen and Aldermen of the Borough.
“Tonight is our chance to recognise not only our civic leaders, but those wonderful volunteers, charity workers and individuals who have given their time freely to support others through one of the most demanding periods in our lifetimes.
“While tonight is a celebration, of course we cannot ignore the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on all of our lives.
“Many of you here will have lost family, friends, or loved ones; or you may have suffered and are possibly still suffering from the virus and its long-term effects yourselves.
“Nobody has been left untouched.”
The ceremony was an opportunity to thank two previous Mayors, Cllr Gurdip Ram Bungar and Cllr John Caller, for their leadership throughout the long months of lockdown, before admitting long-standing borough council member Cllr Narinderjit Singh Thandi and former member Bronwen McGarrity as Freemen of the Borough.
This was followed by the admission of five Aldermen of the Borough: Lesley Boycott, Greta Goatley, David Hurley, William Lambert, and Sara Langdale.
A Special Achievement Award was presented to Kate and there was also congratulations for Paralympian, JohnBoy Smith, Gravesend born and bred, who set his own season best time of one hour, 32 minutes and 25 seconds to finish 10th in the T54 wheelchair marathon. This was despite one of his gloves breaking early in the race, suffering a suspected broken rib in a coming together with another athlete and various other technical difficulties, all after severing a finger 18 months before the Games in a domestic accident.
There was special mention too for Cheavon Clarke, from Gravesend, who reached the last 16 of the heavyweight boxing tournament.
The evening was also the opportunity to recognise the hard work and voluntary efforts of the people of the borough through the Gravesham Community Awards.
Mr Bobby said: “The past 12 months have been dominated by the pandemic and our community has shown how it can rise to a challenge and meet local needs.
“We will never underestimate the contribution of a small army of volunteers throughout this time.
“They ranged from those working for recognised charities, to individuals and small groups who organised themselves and selflessly supported their neighbours and local communities.
“I doubt we will ever know of or be able to recognise everyone who gave their time so willingly.
“But, I am sure that, like me, you have been humbled and inspired in equal measure by the hard work and selfless dedication to others that so many in our great Gravesham community have displayed, not only in recent months but over many years."
Awards went to Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara, Morrisons Community Champion Chris Bradford, City Praise Centre Lunch Angels, Deborah Keys and the Hive Hope Foodbank and ellenor hospice volunteer Suzanne Wood.