OLYMPIC gold medallist Anna Watkins was moved to tears as hundreds of adoring fans flooded to Leek Market Place to greet her at the weekend.
The Longsdon rower, who won gold at the Olympics in the women’s double sculls final at Eton Dorney with team-mate Katherine Grainger, was treated to a civic reception on Saturday.
Anna gave a tearful address to the hundreds of well wishers gathered, thanking the town for the played it played in her success, before stepping into the crowd to sign autographs and pose for photos.
Anna’s dad, Richard Bebington, said of his daughter’s reception: “I was emotional and couldn’t help shedding a few tears.
“It has been a little time since the Olympics and we’ve had time to be more reflective as immediately after everything was highly charged.
“It was a great turnout and she got lots of cheers.
“Anna was really looking forward to coming home and was a bit nervous because it’s difficult to prepare for something like this, and it is always more emotional coming home. It was very touching.”
Anna’s sister Louise said that the reception she received was “overwhelming”.
She added: “When Anna started crying, I started crying. It was so lovely and everyone was cheering. I’m so proud of her all over again.
“I can’t believe how many people turned up; it was brilliant. There was such a good atmosphere everyone was genuinely happy for her.
“The Staffordshire Moorlands is her home and it will always be the centre of everything. It’s where she grew up and is very important.” Anna’s mum Caroline added:
“It was great that all those people turned out to support Anna and it means a lot to her. She has had a lot of national coverage and has been to lots of different places across the country, but coming home is a big difference, and is a big thing because it’s where she grew up and she saw the people she grew up with.
“We didn’t know what to expect and she’s delighted with how the day went. People have been very kind and supportive all the way.
“The best thing was all the children being there, as she wants to inspire children and it made it more worthwhile.”
Crowds turn out in force to welcome Anna home
THE homecoming for the former Westwood College student started with Anna undertaking town tour in a vintage Rolls Royce - loaned by Moorland Classic Cars - from Moorlands House to Market Place via Stockwell Street, Buxton Road, Springfield Road, Ashbourne Road, Haywood Street, Russell Street and Derby Street.
Anna was accompanied from Russell Street to Market Place by the 5th Leek and District Scout and Guide Band and 15-year-old Rebecca Higton - an endurance athlete competing in the ladies’ under 17s category from Staffordshire Moorlands Athletics Club - carrying one of the Olympic torches that was borne in Nottingham by Dannie Sirl, the daughter of retired Leek doctors Gordon and Liz Carpenter.
On arrival at Market Place, Anna was invited onto a stage for a civic welcome, and tribute was paid to her by district council chairman Stephen Ellis, district council leader Sybil Ralphs MBE, and Leek Mayor Pam Wood.
Mr Ellis said: “Anna has been absolutely amazing; the golden girl has come home to the Staffordshire Moorlands.”
Ms Ralphs said: “Competitive sport seems to be something lost in some areas, but it teaches virtues that will last young people for a lifetime, such as team spirit, effort and equality. It is a great leveller and Anna is an inspiration to so many young people and a fantastic and inspirational role model. How do we know we haven’t got a future Olympian gold medal winner, or more than one, in the Staffordshire Moorlands.
“We need to do more with sport in this district and it’s something we are looking at.
“We have so much appreciation, love and respect for Anna. It’s not easy to get up at dawn to train and Anna has done so much sacrificing. We love her for that.”
Mrs Wood said: “The Olympics aimed to inspire a generation and Anna has already done that here at home. She is a fantastic role model to all young people in the Staffordshire Moorlands.
“Thanks to Anna and Lee Pearson we can boast gold medals in the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, I’m sure not many places in the country can claim the same. I’m immensely proud of Anna and that we can claim her as one of our own.”
A second reception was held in the Churnet Rooms at Moorlands House, attended by two pupils and one teacher from each of Leek’s 11 schools, plus a junior and adult member from every Leek sports club, and recipients of talented athlete grants awarded by the district council.
Moorlands was an ‘inspiration’ for Olympic success
Anna Watkins praised the Staffordshire Moorlands for being the inspiration behind her gold medal win at the London Olympics.
Anna stormed to victory during the 2012 London Olympics in the double sculls rowing final at Eton Dorney with team-mate Katherine Grainger.
Saturday saw her coming home to a rapturous welcome and civic reception in Leek Market Place - organised by Staffordshire Mooorlands District Council and Leek Town Council.
Addressing the crowd at the event, a tearful Anna spoke of her gratitude to the people of the Staffordshire Moorlands for their support.
She said: “I was born in Cottage Hospital in Leek, my first sporting experience was trying to learn to ride a bike in Haig Road, I had swimming lessons at Brough Park and joined Leek Swimming Club. I ran on Birchall track and was an active member of the Brownies.
“All of those things took a lot of effort from a lot of people in Leek.
“It may not have the flashiest facilities, but it has a wonderful team of people behind the scenes that make things happen.
“There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. For a lot of the country it’s not true, but for Leek it really is.
“I left Leek aged 18 as a strong, confident person ready to take on the world, and I want to thank everyone who helped to make that happen.
“I hope all these wonderful people carry on doing the same things for all of these smiling, happy young faces I see in front of me.”
Speaking to the Post & Times after the reception, Anna talked more about the welcome home she received.
She said: “It’s been incredible. I don’t have words to describe how I felt when I came into the Market Place and saw so many people and a lot familiar faces.
“It really brought it home and meant the world to me that everyone came out, and it’s something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.
“When people ask what the highlight has been since winning, it’s definitely been this because it’s been amazing.
“I couldn’t believe that everyone came out just for me.
“I set off on this journey and it’s been all about setting a goal and working towards that. I didn’t expect the positive effect and impact it would have on other people; it’s an incredible feeling.”
Speaking further about the part Leek played in her success, she added: “Leek stood me in really good stead because there were so many lovely opportunities and supportive people I grew up with who instilled the belief that the world is a good place and I could do the things I wanted to, and people would help me along the way.
“In the real world it can be tough. I had a foothold to get where I got, but having such a solid background and happy childhood, doing active things when I was growing up and being surrounded by a warm and caring community, prepared me for being able to do the things I’ve gone on to do and who I am.”
'Anna is an important role model'
Liz Stretton, aged 61, of Leek, below, is a volunteer coach with Leek Swimming Club, and remembers Anna from her time with the club.
She said: “I saw Anna when she was in town to see the golden post box and she remembered me and said Hi, and that she recalled talking to me and about what I’d done in swimming, and it was the first time she really realised that women could be athletes.
“I was flattered it was a lovely thing to say to think she actually recognised me.
“It’s incredible to think what she’s done and she started with us. She hasn’t changed she’s always been a really genuine person.”
Jess Dow, right, aged 14, of Leek, is a senior swimmer with Leek Swimming Club, and has been a member since she was eight.
She said: “It’s really strange that someone from Leek, which is small place, has got a gold Olympic medal.
“I would like to be a professional swimmer and would love to see myself competing in the Olympics.
“Anna is an important role model and is proof you don't need to be part of a big club or place, if you work hard enough you’ll succeed.
“I’m proud to be part of the same club she was.” Rebecca Higton, right, aged 15, of Cauldon Low, carried one of the Olympic torches alongside Anna as part of her town tour.
She said: “It was great and she is amazing and an inspiration to everyone.
“I do have ambitions to compete in a future Olympics and Anna is an important role model.
“Anna thanked me for carrying the torch for her and she was really nice and easy to talk to.”