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Béa is national finalist for the inaugural Panerai Challenger Trophy

by Hamish Stuart 9 Aug 15:05 BST
Béa is national finalist - Panerai Challenger Trophy © RYA Cymru-Wales

Llangorse sailor Béa, Sparks, aged 9, was recognised at a national awards ceremony for using the sport to help overcome a social anxiety disorder.

She was a finalist for the inaugural Panerai Challenger Trophy, with a prize of £2,500 for her and £5,000 for her club near Brecon.

Panerai and the RYA were delighted to announce that the winner was 18-year-old Nicola Stockdale, who sails at the Debdale Outdoor Centre in Manchester.

The Panerai Challenger Trophy was created by the Italian high-end watchmaker Panerai together with the RYA's OnBoard programme and is designed to promote the power of sailing in positively impacting young people's lives.

RYA OnBoard sailing clubs and training centres across England were encouraged to nominate a young sailor who has overcome physical, economic or social challenges to achieve a significant milestone in sailing or windsurfing.

Béa, Nicola and two other runners-up were celebrated during the first of what will be an annual awards dinner at the prestigious Royal Yacht Squadron.

"The turnaround in the past two years is amazing. Sailing continues to deliver for her on so many levels of her development which she'll be able to take forward in her life," explained her mother Charlotte Sparks, also the junior and youth sailing co-ordinator at Llangorse.

Béa suffers with Selective Mutism, a social anxiety disorder triggered by unfamiliar people or places.

"Physically, the anxiety closes the throat and prevents the sufferer from being able to speak. It's not that they don't want to speak; they physically can't speak. In 2015 she started learning to sail as part of our OB programme and has since gone on to compete in her Optimist in the Regatta fleet, gradually moving up to Main fleet this year".

For the past two years Béa has been part of the RYA Regional Welsh Squad and is now racing on the National circuit and won many medals and trophies which she's incredibly proud of.

"Sailing and racing in particular has taught Béa to assess her situation and adapt to a constantly changing environment - the wind, the waves, the tide, the other sailors, a variety of venues/events, tactics and strategy.

"Despite her anxiety over the unfamiliarity and unexpected, she now manages to face these uncertainties with confidence. Since starting sailing she has made tremendous progress with 'overcoming' her condition particularly notable at school".

RYA CEO Sarah Treseder added: "We're delighted to recognise Béa's achievement as a finalist of the first Panerai Challenger Trophy. In the past two years she has found the courage and confidence to face her challenges head on. Through sailing she has been able to find her voice, express who she is and has become a real inspiration to other young people. We wish her all the best with her future"

During this 3-year initiative, Panerai has committed to making a total investment of £120,000 to demonstrate the sport's accessibility and to inspire the next generation of sailors.

OnBoard works to make sure any youngster who wants to give sailing or windsurfing a go, regardless of their age, ability or background, can. Kids can get afloat for as little as a fiver at OnBoard clubs and they use the club's boats and boards.

Over a ten year period the programme has introduced more than 500,000 children to the sport, converting over 10% of them into regular participants.

For more information about RYA OnBoard visit www.rya.org.uk/go/onboard

For further details about Welsh sailing and watersports, please go to www.rya.org.uk/rya-regions/rya-cymru-wales or www.facebook.com/RYACymruWales or follow on Twitter @RYACymruWales. You can also keep up to date by following RYA Cymru Wales on Instagram - www.instagram.com/rya_cymru_wales

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