BUCKINGHAMSHIRE sports stars Mari Akhurst and Daisy Kennedy have been presented with SportsAid grants during the Bucks Sporting Lunch Club at Dorney Lake, writes Rob Stevens.

Amersham-based Akhurst, 25, a para dressage rider and the first-ever recipient to receive two SportsAid grants from the Lunch Club, and 17-year-old Kennedy, a golfer from Hazelmere, were presented with their £1,000 grants by current England cricket batting coach, Graham Thorpe MBE.

Akhurst has cerebral palsy which affects movement in all of her limbs. Her condition has deteriorated over the past couple of years since accepting her first grant in 2017 and she is now a full-time wheelchair user.

Akhurst was selected to represent Great Britain (GB) at the Para Dressage European Championships in Rotterdam in August - her first senior championship - where she won a silver medal. She was also won of 12 riders to receive the criteria for the World Equestrian Games.

Akhurst also won the Para Gold National Championships held at the British Dressage Nationals for the last two years.

The SportsAid grant will enable her to compete in Keysoe CPEDI3 this October, an international competition in Bedfordshire, where she has been selected to represent GB with her horse, Bear.

With more competitions under her belt, Akhurst is getting closer to her aim of competing in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

Akhurst, who cites grade one para dressage rider Helen Kearney, as her hero, said: "Horses are my life and my legs and together we excel. They never judge me and we have a lot of fun together. They're the reason I get out of bed every day.

"Having been on the medal podium once, I want to be on it again, but this time in the middle with the national anthem playing. I have to keep on training hard so that I can make my ultimate dream become a reality."

Slough Observer:

PHOTO: (l-r) Mark Ormerod, Chairman of SportsAid Eastern, Mari Akhurst, Graham Thorpe MBE and Daisy Kennedy.

The golfing achievements of Kennedy include three Under 16s international matches for England, which is all the more remarkable considering she suffered three strokes less than a year ago as a result of her colitis. The strokes caused her to lose all movement down the left-hand side of her body.

On top of winning three international matches for England, Kennedy has also won the England Schools competition and the North of England U16s Girls' Open.

Kennedy said: "My biggest challenge was to get strong and return to the golf course as soon as possible.

"I'm playing in competition again but initially it was really scary. Despite this I was determined my colitis, which makes me really tired, wasn't going to beat me.

"I'm still battling my illness every day but in the future I would like to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour.

"My grant will help me to buy new clubs which will be essential for training and help me to reach my goal."

Steve Perry is a SportsAid trustee from Gerrards Cross and said: "We couldn't help but be utterly impressed by the stories of these two young people. Their commitment and dedication to training and their sheer perseverance all while overcoming huge adversity is nothing short of incredible.

"They deserve to success and I'm delighted that their grants will go some way to helping them to realise their ambition to be Buckinghamshire's answer to Helen Kearney and Rory McIlroy on the world stage."

Thorpe MBE was a part of the England backroom team that won the 2019 Cricket World Cup in and appeared in 100 test matches said: "The stories of Mari and Daisy are so inspiring.

"Being at the top of your game is hard but, with their positive attitudes and complete dedication, I've no doubt that they will go far and achieve their ambitions."