CRAIG Heap is a passionate about sport today as he was when winning Common wealth Games gold medals and competing in the Olympics.

The popular gymnast – who captained England on many occasions, including those gold medal-winning performances – shows not signs of wavering when it comes to that infectious enthusiasm.

And the 37-year-old, born on a farm on the Burnley/Pendle border, has lent his support to the Lancashire Telegraph’s Grass Roots Heroes awards.

“Anything that supports and promotes sport can only be a good thing,” said Heap, a former pupil at Heasandford Primary School and Barden High. “I think the Grass Roots Heroes awards are a tremendous idea.

“It is vital to recognise the efforts put in by everyone involved in sport, but especially as grass roots level.”

Heaps knows all too well the importance of local sport having progressed from club to international and on to the biggest stage of all.

“Competing in the Olympics is the greatest achievement of my life,” said Heap who represented Great Britain in the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

“I didn’t win any medals, like I had done in the Commonwealth Games, but I produced a personal best and you can’t do better that doing your best.”

That is the message Heap now passes on to youngsters in his role of going in to schools and clubs to give motivational talks.

And one of the things he always mentions is the importance of having the support of a good team – be it a coach, manager or parent.

The Grass Roots Heroes awards coverings all aspects of amateur sport – including that important supporting team.

“Whenever I am asked who has inspired me most in my career then I always say my mum.

“She made sure I had the opportunities that she never had.

“But others would say it was their coach or someone at their club or team who has done their bit to help them.

“That is why it is nice to see these awards giving those type of people the full recognition they deserve.”

Heap started his journey at Burnley Gymnastics Club which was based at the Thompson Centre which has since been demolition.

He worked under Mick Redmond and Stuart Ingham – two people he insists helped chart his road to stardom. Including mum, Stephanie of course.

Heap competed in more than 100 internationals for England and Great Britain, appeared in five World and European championships as well as winning two gold medals in the Commonwealth Games – in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and then in Manchester four years later.

But none of it could have been achieved had it not been for the foundations laid in his home town.

“Mick and Stuart played a big part in what I have achieved,” said Heap, who now lives in Newcastle where he has again linked up with Redmond coaching children.

“The thing about sport, it is not just about coaching, it is about instilling discipline.

“I was a bit of a tearaway when I was a youngster and I spent too many gym classes sat facing the wall because I was disruptive.

“But I quickly learnt that if I was to do anything then I had to become disciplined and that is something Mick and Stuart showed me.”

Those lessons he learnt as a youngsters he is now passing on to today’s youngsters.

“I love going in to schools, showing my medals and telling them just how important sport is,” added Heap who has been working with Dame Kelly Holmes and helping to promote the London 2012 Olympics.

“I am very passionate about sport. I always have been, when I competed and now talking about it,” he added.

“I travel all around the country talking to school children, which is something I have done for the past five or six years.

“I reckon I have spoken to between 10,000 to 15,000 children and if I can inspire a few of them then I think I have done my job.”

One of Heap’s only disappoint-ments was not setting up a gym-nastics club in his hometown.

“It is something we looked at but, at the time, it just didn’t work out.

“But I try to get back whenever I can. I attended the Lancashire Youth Games gymnastics finals recently and it was great to see so many youngsters involved in the sport.

“You have to remember these boys and girls are the future of sport. They go on to achieve great things but can’t do so without help of others. That’s why I’m pleased to see these awards cover all these aspects of sports.”