28 November 2023

SportsAid's One-to-Watch Award shortlist: Maddie Down

Birmingham's Maddie Down started 2023 with a broken back and ended it as a two-time Commonwealth Youth Games champion. The 16-year-old para athletics star stormed to gold in the women's T38 100m and long jump at Trinbago 2023 less than six months after getting a L5 pars stress fracture in her lower spine.

Maddie Down

Maddie's golden year in track and field has now led to being shortlisted in the top 10 for SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award. The annual Award, launched in 2006, recognises Britain’s brightest young sporting prospects and has previously been won by Olympic champions Tom Daley and Alex Yee and Paralympic gold medallist Hollie Arnold.

The top 10 athletes have been selected from around 1,000 rising stars, supported by SportsAid, across more than 60 different sports in 2023.

"I've been on the UK Futures programme for a year now and it's helped me so much, so it's an honour to be nominated," said Maddie. 

"The work SportsAid do to help me compete all around the world is incredible and to now follow in the footsteps of Tom Daley and Hollie Arnold with this nomination is pretty exciting.

"The stress fracture in my back was probably the biggest challenge I've ever had to face in sport. I landed funny in the sandpit, and I couldn’t jump for three months.

“I had been able to win two golds at the event in Dubai [Sharjah International Open Athletics Meeting] before that, but that period was tough."

Maddie's return came during the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago this summer, when she claimed long jump victory with a jump of 4.70m.

The event marked the first time para events had been included in the Games and Maddie hopes her exploits can encourage other disabled youngsters to pursue their sporting dreams.

"Trinbago was the greatest experience," she said.

"To race against so many different countries and come home with two medals was amazing.

"I wasn't expecting anything in the long jump after my injury, so to win gold was incredible and my highlight of the trip.

"I really hope I’ve inspired some other para athletes with my achievements. Sport is for everyone and that's what I love about athletics."

Maddie herself was inspired by the London 2012 Paralympics at just four-years-old.

Her athletics obsession grew from there, even meeting T38 100m world record holder Sophie Hahn whilst starring on the CBBC show 'The Dengineers' aged nine.

Maddie's episode saw her receive a brand-new sport 'den' in her garden, filled with incredible ParalympicsGB memorabilia, and was created to nourish her fledging sporting passion while also providing a space to do her daily stretches.

And earlier this year, Maddie was racing against Hahn in the very stadium which started it all.

"I was inspired by London 2012," she said. "There were people like me competing and it made me think that I could also be there.

"That was the point for me to realise I wanted to do something in sport.

"This summer, I got to race in the London Diamond League at the Olympic Stadium, which was really cool as I got to compete in the place which first inspired me – and against Sophie Hahn too!"

Away from sport, Maddie is now in the crunch year of her GCSEs, but the Agatha Christie fan has her love of reading to fall back on ahead of what is shaping up to be another exciting year on the track.

"With schoolwork, it's quite hard to balance everything alongside my sport but I think I'm doing quite well," she said.

"I really love reading and spend a lot of time with a book.

"I'm a big Agatha Christie and Robin Stevens crime fan. I love 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd', the twist at the end is one of the best in history!"

Maddie now has a busy couple of months on the horizon in the build up to Paris 2024, with the athletics ace hopeful of making her Paralympic debut next summer.

"I've just recently changed coaches so it would be nice to settle in with that group, get used to that flow and then work my way back up in time for Paris,” said Maddie, who received her SportsAid support from the Backing The Best programme this year.

"To go there for the experience and see how everything works would be nice and then maybe go for gold in LA.

"It also means that I would get to see loads of the people that I met in Trinidad again."

SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award is backed by Royal Bank of Canada – a long-standing supporter of the charity celebrating 10 years of partnership in 2023. The winner of this year’s Award will be revealed in December with each of the top 10 receiving cash boosts and special in-person visits at their training environments to celebrate their achievements.    

Photo credit - with thanks to British Athletics