A Grand night of champions at an emotional Leeds Sports Awards

Lifetime acheivement award winners Cyril Villiers MBE and Bernard Atha CBE, above, receive their awards from the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Coun Tom Murray, left, and David Heddon, right, Sport Leeds Awards Board member. (TJ1002/56u).
Lifetime acheivement award winners Cyril Villiers MBE and Bernard Atha CBE, above, receive their awards from the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Coun Tom Murray, left, and David Heddon, right, Sport Leeds Awards Board member. (TJ1002/56u).
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LEEDS Rhinos star Ian Kirke got ready for the 2014 Leeds Sports Awards frustrated that he wasn’t about to board a plane to France.

As the majority of the Rhinos squad prepared to take on Catalans Dragons, injured Kirke was left to pick up a team of the year award alongside another injured star in Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

Yet after being totally inspired by Leeds’ sporting stars around him – suddenly the previously sulking rugby star was instantly humbled. Kirke, 32, was one of 552 guests at Thursday night’s 11th Leeds Sports Awards which by the true sense of the word were the grandest yet. Because as well as saluting 2013’s sporting stars, the evening showcased just what the city has to look forward to in 2014 – highlighted by July’s beginning of the Tour de France – the Grand Depart.

A passionate audience looked on inspired as Welcome To Yorkshire’s Peter Dodd detailed exactly what was on offer with Dodd admitting: “The next time the Tour de France will be shown live will be in Leeds in July. How good is that?”

And Kirke was left with a similarly buzzing feeling about Thursday night’s celebrations of Leeds’ sporting scene as a whole – so much so that missing duty for his beloved Rhinos became a more manageable pill to swallow. The event at New Dock Hall honoured some of the sporting names Kirke and co will be familiar with such as triathlete Jonathan Brownlee who was named sportsman of the year and boxing champion Josh Warrington who took the professional sportsperson accolade – complete with his Commonwealth belt on stage.

Yet it was no doubt the celebration of the city’s lesser known sporting stars, volunteers and unsung heroes that left Kirke – and 551 others – truly inspired. Fitting that category were the likes of the Leeds Central Akido Club – the best in the country at their lesser known discipline and subsequently walking off with a stack of awards.

World record holder powerlifter Ali Jawad also scooped the disability sportsperson of the year award. He can lift three times his body weight. And Norman Stephens also fitted the bill for his work with sailing charity Sail Free which helps in particular children and adults with disabilities experience sailing. Stephens was so taken aback by his Sports Volunteer award that he was moved to tears. And even at six-foot-five, there was no denying that man mountain Kirke was also inspired.

“It’s really surreal and I was actually sat there at the beginning of the night probably quite selfishly thinking ‘why aren’t I on the plane to France tomorrow,” Kirke told the YEP. “But then you see the awards that came before ours such as the community based one and the disability awards and you just get inspired by people. You think there’s a lot more to life than me playing tomorrow. It’s quite humbling. It’s inspirational and you realise there’s more to life.”

Team-mate Jones-Buchanan was on hand to give the official speech as the duo collected their team of the year accolade despite a rare season without winning a trophy, albeit they went mighty close. Jones-Buchanan quipped: “We were very disappointed with the way things went last year. Some of us thought we were going to get the sack so this is a bonus!”

Rhinos edged out Yorkshire CC while triathlete world champion Non Stanford, aikido ace Laura Beardsmore and kayaking sensation Claire O’Hara all shared the sportswoman of the year accolade. The sharing theme continued into the outstanding service to sport award – in which rugby league supremo John Ahm, diving stalwart Ann Barker and aikido servants Mick Pratt and Danielle Jones were all honoured. Bernard Atha CBE and Cyril Villiers MBE also picked up lifetime achievement awards.

And there was much to celebrate at the other end of the age spectrum with swimming sensation Sophie Taylor and gymnastics star Nile Wilson taking the Young Sportsperson female and male gongs.

At an even younger age, 12-year-old BMX wizz kid Taryn McConnell took the junior sportsperson under-14 award. And of course there were the usual awards for Leeds’ ever thriving diving team with race-walking also prominent through Ellie Dooley – highly commended as young sportsperson with Andi Drake taking the coaching award despite having his funding stripped. He typified the passion of the night when declaring: “I came to Leeds to coach five years ago and I’ve not finished yet.”

He almost sounded like he was just getting started. The same is true of the ever growing, ever impressive Leeds Sports Awards. Just ask Ian Kirke.

For a full list of winners and a slideshow of pictures from the night, see: yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk

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