The Duchess of Cambridge could not help laughing today, after realising that she had been attempting to have a conversation with a young athlete who was wearing heavy-looking mask and unable to speak.
Golfer Emma Allen, 17, from Southampton, was one of a group of athletes to be put through their paces in front of the Duchess as she toured the GSK Human Performance Lab in Brentford.
Realising that Miss Allen was unable to reply, a clearly amused Duchess burst into laughter before getting the explanation she was looking for from one of the lab staff instead.Afterwards, Miss Allen told of her meeting with the Duchess and described her as a ‘wonderful figurehead’. ‘I know she is very sporty and loves her hockey,’ she said.’It’s wonderful to have a figurehead like her for me, especially as a girl. The facilities here are nothing like I have ever seen, ‘she continued. ‘I never thought I would get the chance to experience something like this.
‘Miss Allen’s participation in the workshop had been organised by SportsAid, a charity that supports young athletes and aims to help them realise their potential – whether via funding or training.Kate, 32, who is around 16 weeks pregnant with her second child, is SportsAid’s patron and in true sports-fanatic style, revealed that she was ‘frustrated’ at being unable to exercise because of her condition.Happily, organisers came to the rescue and, after being asked whether she wanted to try her hand at an exercise which tests mentality agility, she smiled broadly and said: ‘Finally, something I can do while I am pregnant!’
The Duchess, who was visiting the centre on behalf of SportsAid, which offers financial and practical assistance to young British athletes, pulled a face when she was told that recent participants included Formula One driver Jensen Button and triathletes the Brownlee brothers. ‘Hmmmm,’ she said, ‘no pressure then!’Kate was put through four tests of increasing difficulty by neuroscientist Barry O’Neill which involved her tapping coloured circles on a large screen. On one she was instructed to only press the green buttons and not red, on another to ignore verbal instructions to press one colour while tapping another.
The sporty Duchess, a keen hockey and tennis player, has often admitted that she and her husband, Prince William, are fiercely competitive. And today she said wryly: ‘You should have my husband here.’Wearing a plum £ 450 dress by British label Goat and kneehigh elasticated black boots, Kate squared up to the screen and, with both her arms outstretched and ready, she appeared to complete the task with ease.Afterwards, Mr O’Neill, 34, who was at pains to point out that he was not being rude, said that the Duchess had done well for ‘a woman of her age’. ” She actually did very well for a woman of her age, ‘he explained. ‘I’m not being rude, I must stress, but your reflexes do decrease every decade you age.
‘Until now sports science has concentrated on what we call a headless approach. Concentrate on the body and leave the mind to somewhere else. We are trying to change that here.’Jensen Button was here recently – he’s 34 – and completed the tests without a single mistake.’ When this was explained to the Duchess, she seemed fascinated and said: ‘It makes you wonder whether he is a good driver because he is so sharp mentally or whether the years of driving have honed it.’It’s remarkable that people have not really thought before of working the mind and body as one.
This could be used in so many environments, even in an office. It is absolutely fascinatingAfter being greeted as she arrived by Tim Lawler, chief executive of Sports Aid, and Charles Leslie, Global Head of the Human Performance Lab, the Duchess was introduced to some of the young athletes who were benefitting from a day’s workshop at the world class facilities .The teenagers, who have shown promise in sports as varied from swimming to the triathlon, golf and bobsleigh, have been described as some of the country’s ‘brightest hopes for the future’.
Kate looked fascinated as she watched Sheikh Sheikh, 19, a wheelchair athlete, who was being put through his tests that focused on his core body temperature and heart rate compared to how hard he thought he was working.Multiple gold medal British Paralympic wheelchair athlete David Weir CBE explained to the Duchess what was happened. Afterwards, he said it was ‘fantastic’ that she was showing her support and said the financial help he had received from SportsAid had helped him enormously in the early stages of his career.Mr Sheikh was also left impressed by the royal visitor, saying afterwards that she had been ‘very interested’ in his progress.
‘She was somewhat apologetic watching me as I was working and seemed very interested in how the tests work,’ he added. ‘I felt very inspired by her visit.’Next on her tour was the Enviro Chamber, where several athletes, including 16-year-old golfer Marcus Penge, were training in 32 degree heat with 60 per cent humidity to recreate the conditions expected during the Rio Olympics in 2016The pregnant Duchess visibly flinched at the oppressive heat.
‘Wow!’ She said. She expressed her surprise at how well the young sportsmen and women were doing in the conditions.’You seem super calm and relaxed, how on earth are you doing it?’ She asked. ‘It’s lovely to see experience the science behind everything. But I am sorry that we are all watching you have to go through this. ‘Dr Ken van Someren, research and development director at the lab, who showed Kate round, said she seemed genuinely surprised at the sophistication of the equipment available to participants.
‘As we walked in she told me that she expected to see a small gym somewhere. She really did not expect to see what we have here, ‘he said. ‘She was particularly fascinated at the way we can apply what we discover about the athletes to help them improve.’
Sports Aid’s chief executive Tim Lawler agreed, adding: ‘She mentioned several times about how frustrated she was at not being able to get involved because of her pregnancy and made clear she would like to come back in the future.’The one thing that has emerged from her patronage is how much she wants to champion the athletes and their parents and she was fascinated to learn what just a small intervention like today early in their careers can mean for their aspirations and achievements.’Established in 1976, SportsAid has helped many of the UK’s best-known sportsmen and women, including two-thirds of the British team at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and more than 450 British athletes who competed at Glasgow 2014.
Support can include grants used for meeting essential costs such as travel, training, accommodation, competition fees and equipment but also workshop events such as today’s.The Duchess of Cambridge has been Patron of SportsAid since 2013, reflecting her own passion for sport, in particular hockey, tennis, rowing and sailing.The GSK Human Performance Lab carries out research on elite performers – athletes, sports teams, extreme explorers – to better understand how the body and brain function.
Kate’s visit to Brentford comes in the middle of a busy run of engagements, who, with her husband, Prince William, will attend the Royal Variety Performance for the first time tomorrow night.
On Sunday, she joined the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge at the Cenotaph for the Remembrance Sunday service and has turned out at a number of events since overcoming severe morning sickness, most notably, at the state welcome for Singaporean president Tony Tan late last month .