Paralympic hero Sophie Christiansen CBE became the first woman inducted into the Bucks and Milton Keynes Sporting Hall of Fame at a glittering awards night.
The 31-year-old, who was born two months prematurely with cerebral palsy, took centre stage as nearly 300 people gathered at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre for the 13th annual Bucks & MK Sport Awards.
The crowd cheered and clapped as she became just the third Hall of Fame inductee following Olympic legends Sir Steve Redgrave and Greg Rutherford MBE.
The evening is organised to pay tribute to the people and organisations who make grassroots sport happen in the area, while also giving the special Hall of Fame tribute to the county’s elite-level athletes.
Christiansen, a Paralympic dressage rider and eight-time gold medallist, first began riding for physiotherapy aged six, joining the South Bucks Riding for the Disabled Association in Fulmer aged 13.
She has competed in four Paralympic Games, winning three golds at Rio for Great Britain in 2016.
She was presented with the award by the Lord-Lieutenant for Buckinghamshire Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher.
Afterwards she said: “Being inducted into the hall of fame is an amazing honour.
“To be in the same league as all those talented athletes and being the first female para athlete opens the door to all the diversity coming through.”
The audience was entertained by a speech from Aaron Phipps, a Great Britain wheelchair rugby athlete and Paralympian.
At 15, Aaron had both of his legs and most of his fingers amputated due to blood poisoning from meningitis.
He now works across the UK with young people to help them achieve their goals and is a Sky Sports Living for Sport athlete mentor.
Among the award winners were Melanie Timberlake.
Melanie, who lives in Aylesbury, delivers weekly sessions for children and adults with disabilities in both martial arts and football.
She coaches at Stoke Mandeville Stadium and Princes Risborough and won the Community Coach of the Year for 2018 at the awards night.
“It was a shock and it was exciting,” she said.
“It’s the people I coach and the people I coach with that make it happen – it’s not just me.”
Isabella Parola was named Young Leader of the Year for her outstanding contribution to sport both at John Colet School and to community rugby in Bucks, including sessions at Aylesbury Rugby Club.
The 17-year-old lives in Great Missenden and took to the stage on crutches following an operation earlier in the week to fix a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in her leg.
She said: “I am ecstatic, it’s brilliant.
“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it.
“I love volunteering and it’s great to know all the coaching I’ve done has resulted in a lot of girls playing rugby.”
Sue Imbriano, chair of Leap, the county sport and activity partnership which co-ordinated the awards, told the audience in her speech: “We have a relentless focus on improving people’s lives through physical activity and sport.
“When it comes to sport, we have much to celebrate and much to be proud of.”