Report: Hannah Pole
The importance of volunteers and coaches for the future of cycling continues to be recognised in Wales.
Neil Smith, founder of the popular Newport Velo Cycling Club, has added the Performance Development Coach of the Year to his list of success.
In what has been an unprecedented year of success for the sport, Neil was awarded the glowing accolade at the Sport Wales Coach of the Year Awards for his continuous efforts to make cycling inclusive for people of all abilities.
In a glittering ceremony at the Welsh Institute of Sport on Wednesday evening, Neil was praised for his achievements which have seen him set up a club for young people, and help pave the way for some of Wales’ top world class athletes.
Neil Smith, Peformance Development Coach of the Year: photo by Steve Pope, SportingWales
Neil is the man who introduced triple Paralympic medal-winner, Mark Colbourne, to cycling after he was injured in a life-threatening paragliding accident that left him with a broken back.
With Neil’s support, less than two years later, Colbourne pulled on a GB jersey to scoop a bronze medal at a World Cup event in Spain. Earlier this year, he took gold at London 2012.
Neil said: “As a volunteer, it is something quite special to be able to stand next to elite coaches and be recognised in the same way. It’s great too for young people to not only see athletes win awards but to recognise that coaches and support staff can achieve the highest levels in cycling too.”
Neil’s story began rather ordinarily, when he took his young son along to a youth cycling session at the newly-opened Newport Velodrome, home of Welsh Cycling, in 2004.
Inspired by the enjoyment that cycling brought to his own family, Neil set out to found the Newport Velo Youth Cycling Club. He was determined to make it fully inclusive, having been personally disabled since the age of 13.
His vision has never wavered since. Neil has worked tirelessly with Disability Sport Wales to offer specialised coaching to individuals showing potential.
He has worked with likes of Paralympian Jody Cundy, who within a year had broken world records and became one of the first cyclists fast-tracked onto the British Cycling performance programme. Jody has since won gold in Beijing and bronze at the London Paraylmpics.
He has secured regular track sessions, as well support from local organisations including Newport Transport to enable his club to grow and provide opportunities for more young people.
Ian Jenkins, Development Manager, Welsh Cycling
Ian Jenkins, Welsh Cycling Development Manager today praised Neil's achievement: “Huge congratulations must go to Neil following his years of service to club cycling and the Disability Sport Wales (DSW) cycling academy which has fed the British Cycling programme. He is a real inspiration to young people.
“Volunteers are at the heart of our sport and we’re pleased that Sport Wales continues to recognise them for their hard work.”
Professor Laura McAllister, Chair of Sport Wales
Speaking at the ceremony, Chair of Sport Wales, Professor Laura McAllister said: "It has been an unforgettable year for sport in Wales and it has been a pleasure to recognise these individuals who have contributed so much at grassroots and elite level.
"It is a privilege to meet all our winners and finalists and I hope that in some small way this awards ceremony goes some way to thanking them for their dedication and commitment. They are the role models that we want the Welsh public to follow to help us bring through the next generation of young sportspeople."
If you’re a club coach or volunteer and would like to share your story, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org