Yorkshire couple push boat out to see daughter make history

With no funding and a make-do-and-mend approach to their training programme, the Great Britain women’s volleyball side have not sailed the smoothest of waters to the Games – nor have some of their parents.

Ann and Nigel Laybourne of Dronfield, Sheffield, travelled to London on board Shangrila, the canal boat they live on, to watch daughter Rachel, with the story of their five-week journey entirely in keeping with the squad’s chaotic Olympic build-up.

Their mooring in Paddington had to be booked last year – when Rachel was still recovering from shoulder surgery and not playing – while the time involved meant they had to set off before she had even been confirmed in coach Audrey Cooper’s final squad.

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After leaving Yorkshire they ran in to problems, with the deluge of June and July putting the River Thames on flood alert.

But, having stood by Rachel and her team-mates during six-years of funding cuts and heartache, nothing was going to stop them.

Motor neuron disease sufferer Nigel, who admits to some difficulties steering, took his boat on a 120-lock voyage to London.

“We booked our trip in April last year because British Waterways had a first-come-first-serve approach to Olympic moorings,” he said. “There was no way we were not going to be here, whether Rachel was playing or not. She was recovering from surgery at the time and there had been no talk of selection. We have followed these girls for too long not to be here.

Since reaching London the Laybournes have since seen their 30-year-old daughter appear against Russia, Algeria and Italy, including seeing the first Games win for a UK volleyball side.

Before heading sough, the squad lived in cramped accommodation at the Sheffield Fire and Rescue centre.