THEY are world champions in their own right but Paula Walker and Sophie Hitchon have never forgotten their roots.
Despite climbing to the top of their respective sports, the pair believe the support and recognition they have received at local level has helped them scale the heights.
Walker, from Blackburn, sprung to prominence when she was crowned junior world bobsleigh champion in Park City, Utah back in February.
And Burnley’s Hitchon - an Olympic hopeful for London 2012 - underlined her true potential when she clinched the world junior hammer title in Canada last year.
Walker, a former St Bede’s High School pupil, believes amateur sport plays a vital role in helping athletes like herself and Hitchon propel to the world stage.
“In that respect, local amateur sport is as vital as Olympic level sport,” said the 24-year-old who finished in 11th place on her Winter Olympics debut in Vancouver last year. “I was always doing
sport before I took up bobsleigh, all of which I enjoyed.
“The fact is, to be a professional athlete, we all need to start some where.”
Both athletes have been hon-oured by their home town boroughs and both agree that the Grass Roots Heroes awards are a wonderful way to encour-age, promote and highlight what goes on at local level.
“I have been lucky enough to have won awards in both Burnley and Blackburn,” said Hitchon, 19, a former Ivy Bank pupil who is also a member of Blackburn Harriers Ath-letics Club.
“It means an awful lot to get that recognition in your home town or where you train.
“That acknowledgement is a great boost and something always nice to get. So awards like these are impor-tant for that reason. Not just for those competing but for those who work so hard as well.”
She added: “My dad is a coach at Harriers so I know just how hard people behind the scenes work.”
Walker, who is the number one GB driver, was named Blackburn Sports Council senior sports personality last year.
She said: “It is really nice to know people are behind me. Bobsleigh is certainly never going to be a well known sport but having Blackburn’s support has given me a little more drive.
“So awards like the Grass Roots Heroes awards are great. Everybody likes recognition and, let’s face it, we all work harder when there are awards.”
Hitchon currently trains and studies in Loughborough while Walker, a corporal in the Royal Signals, lives in Wiltshire and trains in Bath.
But they both try to support local sport whenever they can.
“It’s important and I try my best,” said Walker. “Training makes it hard but I have been back to St Bedes to hand out awards.”