TASS athletes are ones to watch at National Award Ceremony


Antonia Bunyan in Goalball action. Photograph copyright: GoalballUK

TASS athletes Antonia Bunyan and Karim Chan were two of the stars of the show at SportsAid’s Celebrate The Next event. We caught up with two of England’s fastest emerging sporting talents.

Antonia Bunyan was still buzzing long after the curtain came down on her first SportsAid awards ceremony. “I loved every minute,” she admitted as she reflected on a special night in London surrounded by a slew of serious sporting talents.

“Just being nominated and shortlisted for the One To Watch award was an amazing achievement. But Celebrate The Next was such a professional event and I’d never attended an awards ceremony on that scale.

“Being around all of the other amazing athletes was an incredible experience.

“There were so many young athletes with medal potential – they had belief in themselves and all of the shortlisted athletes had belief in each other.

“I went away from there wanting to be an even better goalball player.”

At just 19 Antonia is already one of the best in Britain.

Fresh from a breakout tournament at the 2019 European Championships, the dual career athlete is already focusing on Paris 2024. The future, she insisted, has never been brighter for women’s goalball.

“Disappointingly, we missed out on a place at Tokyo 2020 by one goal – and a late goal at that,” she explained. GB finished fourth in Rostock and let a final chance to qualify for next summer’s Paralympics slip agonisingly through their grasp.

“Looking back, I’m proud of what we achieved as a team and proud of how I played. You can’t beat the experience that you gain playing in those major competitions and we’ll come back stronger.

“We’re a young squad and I’m very excited about the next two Paralympic cycles. We coped well under pressure, picked up some big wins and proved we have real potential.

“GB lost its two most experienced players before the championships after they decided to retire and so basically we were starting again.

“We didn’t have a starting three and it was a case of going back to the drawing board. We didn’t know what our best line-up was and yet we went there and did ourselves proud. To finish fourth was a great achievement.”

Another athlete with obvious Paris 2024 medal potential is long jumper Karim Chan. Like fellow TASS athlete Antonia, he made the 10-strong shortlist for SportsAid’s One To Watch 2019 award and is poised to step up to the senior ranks.

The rock fan is making a big noise on the athletics scene and is focusing fully on selection for France.

“My ultimate ambition in the long term is to represent GB and to compete in the 2024 Paris Paralympics,” said the 19-year-old. “I’d also love to become a PE teacher to help inspire children in Special Education to take part in sports.”

A thirst for learning is another trait common to TASS pair Antonia and Karim. The former, who studies massage and braille at Hereford’s Royal National College For The Blind, added: “Although I’m an elite athlete my studies have always been important.

“I want to be able to have a career in the future so I need to put in the work now. My long-term plan is to have a massage business and, beyond that, manage a health care centre.

“I need to make sure that I’m constantly learning and that I’m always on top of my academic work. I’m quite strict with myself when it comes to getting my college work done. It’s a motivation thing: I know that when the academic work is done then that’s the time I can focus fully on training and competition. I enjoy training and enjoy it more knowing that I’m up to date with my college commitments.”

Antonia and Karim are dual career converts and their package of TASS support ensures they can continue to combine sport and education.

Karim Chan won gold earlier this year in the Men’s T20 at the World Para athletics Junior Championships

“My TASS award has given me lots of help towards achieving my aim of gaining world class performance athlete status next year,” added Karim.

“TASS has helped me to do additional training and gain access to lifestyle mentoring.

“I’ve had one-to-one S&C, nutrition and psychology sessions and the financial support helps to reduce the burden on my family.”

Antonia described TASS as a ‘lifesaver’. “It’s as simple as that,” added an athlete who fractured her elbow and broke her wrist in the run-up to this year’s European Championships.

“I can’t thank TASS enough for accepting me onto the scheme and then supporting me through my injuries earlier this year.

“Without that support I wouldn’t have been able to get the advice that I needed or go for the early scans which gave me an idea of what the ultimate outcome would be.

“I got everything that I needed instantly – the surgery was organised so quickly and TASS accredited staff helped me with my recovery too.

“They were involved in my rehab and offered me essential advice on the road to recovery. Thanks to TASS what could have been a long and painful process was actually plain sailing!”

Both Antonia and Karim made a striking impression on SportsAid alumna Dame Katherine Grainger at the inspirational Celebrate The Next event.

But it was Para swimming sensation Ellie Challis who was named as the overall winner of the One To Watch award following an outstanding 2019.

Antonia (far left) and Karim (4th from left) and the other eight nominees for this year’s SportsAid ‘One to watch’ award’. Para-simmer Ellie Challis (front) was the overall winner.

The 15-year-old won bronze in the women’s S3 50m backstroke at the IPC World Para Swimming Championships and set one world and two European records at the British Para Swimming International.

Previous One To Watch winners include Tom Daley and Hollie Arnold and Dame Katherine explained: “It’s a fabulous award because we get to have a look at what the future might hold.

“I’ve been on the judging panel a few times now and every year it’s so hard. We really struggle to make the decision – they are outstanding athletes who are as young as 13 and have already had international success.

“SportsAid is often the first hand to reach across that gap to say they believe in you and your future.

“That confidence that SportsAid gives – and the extra support and recognition – makes a huge difference to the lives of young people at that point of their career. It is quite game-changing for those who made the top 10.”

The top 10 shortlisted athletes were selected from 1,000 rising British stars supported by SportsAid across more than 60 different sports.

Each year, athletes are nominated by their sport’s governing body on the strength of their talent and potential, as well as their recent achievements.