Sarah Winckless Wins Surprise Award

Posted: 27/01/2014

From Sarah's Blog - December 2013 - This is a magical time of year, with Christmas parties and Sports Award events celebrating the year we've just had. I am now involved in a few awards, judging rather than competing. I am on the panel for the Sports Aid One-to-Watch award; I gave my input on the athletes that they were considering as a Mentor in the Jaguar Awards; gave an award out alongside Dame Mary Peters at the OCS Young Sportsperson Awards and judged for the 9th year in a row the Steve Redgrave Bursary award for Wycombe District. I really enjoy seeing the variety and depth of young talent coming through, and don't mind admitting I often feel physically sick with the responsibility of separating winners from runners up. It was nice last therefore last week to be invited as a guest to just be in the audience of the Sky Sports and Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year Awards – or so I thought.


Looking back there were many moments that should have had me suspicious, but I was literally oblivious to them all. Katherine Grainger made went great lengths to make sure I went to the awards. Andrew Longmore actually came to my house and picked me up to take me there. When I arrived I was told I was a VIP and I didn't need a wrist band, which seemed very strange – but at the time I just went with it. As I walked in they wanted to do photos (I explained this away as a case of mistaken identity I often get mistaken as Anna Watkins – tall, blonde), then a quick piece to camera (I put my Athletes' Commission hat and talked about the variety of talent and sports). Once in the building things seemed more normal and I had a great time catching up with friends and learning more about how their years had been. I managed have a great chat with Charlotte du Jardin who has had an incredible year, see the ever positive and impressive Tanni Grey-Thompson and to  see Anna Watkins and have a cuddle with her son William, who is getting bigger and bigger and always seems so chilled. Also I must confess I had a couple of glasses of champagne, after all I wasn't driving and it was flowing almost as fast as the conversation.


As I went into the ceremony I was told to sit at the front, however I was pretty late in and I thought perhaps someone hadn't turned up and they didn't want an empty seat.  It was next to Lloyd Cowan, Christine Ohuruogo's coach, who I was in the stands with as Christine won in Beijing and it was great to see him again and reminisce. The awards started and it was great to be in the audience, I had a great view, felt close to the action and was thoroughly enjoying the event.  I knew that Katherine was giving out an award, but had been fairly vague about it, so I was looking forward to watching her on stage. When her moment came she spoke brilliantly to Hayley McQueen about her own year in 2013, then she started to talk about the award she was giving. It was the Helen Rollason award for Inspiration and as she talked I became convinced she was giving it to Tanni and whispered this in Lloyd's ear. So when the video started to play and the first picture was Katherine, all I could think was that the organisers had made a mistake and were running the wrong video, surely Katherine was giving the award. Then I saw that the race that they were showing was of a quad in 2006 that I was also in, and I was secretly pleased, through there mistake I would be on tele! As another photo of me flashed up, I wondered where they could have possibly got the photo from and when they were going to turn off the video. After all, Tanni didn't feature in this at all. It was as my Step-Dad speaking on the video and my Mum, Step-Dad, Mike and sister, Imogen appeared in the video I realised this wasn't a mistake; somehow I had won something. Hearing Mike talk so brilliantly the tears started well up in my eyes and all I could do was grab hold of Imy and Mike. I was in complete shock, my mind was racing, yet seemed to also have simultaneously gone blank – to say I didn't even know what the award I was getting was no exaggeration. The emotions in me were so powerful – would I be able to get up, to speak, to hold it together at all?


Luckily one of the last pictures I was aware of was of me making the divers ‘ok' sign, a day when we'd been mucking around with the photographers and a photo that has followed me around ever since. It was genius, it lightened the moment for me and as they announced my name my legs did as I asked and I was able to get up on stage and give Katherine a massive hug. I can't believe the time and effort she put into keeping this a secret and getting my family there.Hayley did a great job interviewing me, giving me time and space and I think my voice held together – I've not watched the video yet, however Imy has a copy and I know I won't get through the family Christmas without a viewing.  The rest of the evening passed in a blur, with Sarah Springman receiving a lifetime achievement award and Christine lifting the Sportswomen of the year award. I was sitting stunned, humbled and amazed, trying to take in what had just happened to me.


Getting home that night it was the first time I was able to get onto Twitter, Facebook and Email and see how many people had watched, been part of the secret and were delighted for me. Despite the fact that I was getting up at 4.30 to drive to Cambridge and it was well after one, I read and answered many of them, sleep felt miles away, in fact I was still shaking.


I can't imagine there will ever be a night like that one again for me, of course I would rather my test for Huntington's had come back negative and potentially I'd never have to think about it again, however that wasn't to be. Being faced with so little certainty over my future it has really helped me to take back control by seizing my opportunities, living life to the full and helping others where I can. And of course, taking this path has given me so much, great friends, a whole community that supports me, an Olympic Medal and now amazingly the Sunday Times and Sky Sports Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration.  Still almost unbelievable.