Television audiences up and down the UK roared at their screens last summer when Olympic rower Will Satch stroked the British eight to gold in Rio.
An MBE in the Queen’s 2017 New Year Honours list shortly followed, but the rower did it with the help of a watch brand. No, seriously.
Christopher Ward watches have been championing underdog talent with funding since 2013, and have supported a handful of Olympic stars – including Will Satch.
GT caught up with the gold medallist, as well as Christopher Ward co-founder Mike France, about the Challenger Programme.
Will Satch, Olympic Rower
What inspired you to join the Challengers Programme?
I was inspired to join the Challengers Programme because the Christopher Ward team has a strong family feel about them, they are honest with their customers and supportive of those that need a helping hand. They took me under their wing even before I achieved my goal, which is unusual in today’s market.
What is the importance of the Challengers Programme? How does it help people?
I’m not from an orthodox elitist background that most people associate with rowing and The Challengers Programme helped me by supporting me when I needed it. The Programme supports the under-dog and nurtures people with world-class talent that might be under-represented. Individuals with the spirit, drive and passion to undertake a feat that most people wouldn’t contemplate.
Football has received a lot of negative attention this year for its issues with homophobia – would you say rowing has a similar problem?
Rowing is a sport everyone and anyone can participate in. Although rowing at elite level has low recognition which at times can be frustrating, that is part of its beauty as the sport stays pure and welcoming to all. You do it for the love of the sport not the money and your respect one another.
Matt Damon recently said that actors shouldn’t come out as gay if they wanted to remain successful in their career – would you say this view applies to sports, too?
I would like to think not, perhaps naively, I hope sportsmen and women are judged on their professional sporting prowess alone.
What would your advice be for someone who wants to succeed at sports but is unsure whether to be honest about their sexuality?
I think it is imperative than one is truthful about one’s sexuality. Living a lie leads to personal unhappiness. Sexuality should never get in the way of achieving your sporting dream and your dedication to it.
You won gold at the Rio Olympics as part of the GB rowing team, how was that experience?
It was one of the most incredible day’s of my life, and I’ve had many. The emotion on crossing the finish line was not the euphoria I had expected immediately, that came later. Instead I was overwhelmed with relief. The job was done. It was over. The thing I had been driving my dreams and my focus since boyhood had been realised.
Mike France, Co-Founder at Christopher Ward
What is the importance of the Challenger Programme? How does it help people?
Our Challenger Programme is the best way to support the underdogs out there! The Programme aims to nurture people with world-class talent, but who need a helping hand to achieve their ambitions. Whether in fields that are under-represented in terms of funding and coverage, or individuals undertaking a feat the rest of us wouldn’t dare contemplate, Christopher Ward provides funding and support to those that push boundaries.
On average, how many people a year do you take as Challengers? How many people apply to be a Challenger?
We don’t have a set number per year, when we find someone we want to work with, we make it work. We work with our Challengers for a minimum of 2 years so we really invest time, as well as money, into the Challengers and supporting them on their journey to achieve their ambitions. Each year we can see up to 50 applications, and we review each application very carefully to make sure we’re really supporting those who don’t have a foot in the door already.
Has there been any LGBT people taking part in the Challenger Programme?
We’d be proud to have LGBT Challengers, but to be honest it’s not something that has ever come up. It could never affect someone’s eligibility to become a Challenger, therefore it’s not something we tend to ask!
If a Challenger was to come out as LGBT while being sponsored, would they be supported?
Absolutely. Our Programme is there to support all our Challengers to reach their potential, so we’d want to be there for them every step of the way.