It’s not every day you get to share a stage with your city’s sporting heroes, but for Declan Jenkinson that dream will become a reality tonight when he appears at the 2021 Leeds Sports Awards.
The co-captain of Leeds Rhinos Foundation’s Learning Disability Super League side will be proudly representing both his team and our charity tonight having been nominated for the coveted Disability Sportsman of the Year award alongside Leeds Rhinos Wheelchair Rugby League player James Simpson.
Despite experiencing a difficult year without his rugby, Declan, 29, is overjoyed to have been recognised for his efforts to champion disability sport and admits he almost didn’t believe it to be true.
“My phone started vibrating and when I saw the Sports Awards had tagged me in a post I thought it was a wind up or a joke, but then I realised it was official and I just felt so happy that somebody would be kind enough to nominate me,” he explained.
“Not only myself, but all the Learning Disability Super League players have had a really tough year with our entire season put on hold, so it’s an honour to be able to represent them like this.
“I’ve done my best to try and stay active by going on walks or runs when everything else had shut down. I’ve even been doing my RLWC2021 Skills Journals which has helped me to improve and carry on with my rugby during a tough year, but I hope we can all get back to training together soon.”
For the first time, sports fans from across the city and beyond will be able to join in the 18th annual celebrations by tuning in to Leeds TV for the awards ceremony, which recognises the sporting achievements and efforts of all those who have championed sport in Leeds during the past year.
It will be a proud moment for Declan, who says his friends, family and teammates will all be tuning in at home to cheer him on at his first ever awards ceremony.
“I’m ecstatic to have been nominated for Disability Sportsman of the Year, but also a bit nervous because it’s my first Sports Awards and I’ve never been nominated for anything before,” said Declan.
“I’ve got it on record and I can’t wait to watch it back because it will be cool to look at myself on the TV and I’ll be getting the brochures which are being sent out to remind me of this moment.”
“I enjoy being the co-captain for Leeds Rhinos LDSL because I make new friends, stay active, meet new people from all the different teams and get to enjoy some amazing experiences. When we made our debut at Anfield on Magic Weekend everyone felt so proud to be there and seeing all the fans cheer us on made us feel like we belonged on that pitch.”
The Sports Awards are the first in a long line of exciting events for Declan to look forward to this year, with the imminent return of the Learning Disability Super League after a 14-month hiatus and the Run for All Leeds 10k, which he will be taking on as part of the Foundation’s Run With The Rhinos team.
Declan said: “This year will actually my second Leeds 10k, as my first time was in 2019. I thought that I needed to prove to myself and my teammates that I could complete this challenge even though I’d never really done any kind of real running before.
“Last time I ran alone in 1 hour 9 minutes, but this year I’m actually doing it whilst pushing my girlfriend Jen in a wheelchair. She has Ehlers-Danlos syndromes and her condition causes severe pain and dislocations, but she’s wanting to do the run with me to make her family proud and raise awareness for the EDS charities close to her own heart.
“Personally, it’s great way to show myself that I can accomplish anything, but also raise money for a charity that means a lot to me. The Foundation has helped me big time because without them there wouldn’t be the opportunity for me to play LDSL and get involved with other wellbeing programmes like Try Club which I’ve been doing for years now.
“They do so much brilliant work in providing all these different activities to empower the whole community and I’m delighted to be able to help them out.”
Watch Declan at the 2021 Leeds Sports Awards live on Leeds TV tonight from 6.30pm-8pm, on Sky 117, Virgin 159 and Freeview Channel 7. Visit http://leedssportsawards.co.uk/ for more information.
Run with the Rhinos 2021 takes place at the Run For All Leeds 10k on Sunday 5th September. Entry is £27 and there is a minimum fundraising suggestion of £100, which can be done by visiting https://bit.ly/3784mxv.
You can sponsor Declan and Jen on their RWTR fundraising page HERE.