Sheffield parents’ rough ride to Olympics to watch daughter

Nigel and Anne Laybourne, parents of Team GB's Olympic Volleyball competitor Rachel Laybourne, with their dog Toby, berthed in Paddington Basin after they set off to see their daughter play in the London 2012 Olympics from Sheffield five weeks ago via canal boat.  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday August 2, 2012. See PA story OLYMPICS Volleyball Britain Women. Photo credit should read: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire
Nigel and Anne Laybourne, parents of Team GB's Olympic Volleyball competitor Rachel Laybourne, with their dog Toby, berthed in Paddington Basin after they set off to see their daughter play in the London 2012 Olympics from Sheffield five weeks ago via canal boat. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday August 2, 2012. See PA story OLYMPICS Volleyball Britain Women. Photo credit should read: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire
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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 and, so it turns out, nor have some of their parents.

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

Their mooring at Paddington Basin had to be booked in April last year - when Rachel was still recovering from shoulder surgery - and they had to set off before she had been confirmed in the final squad.

After leaving South Yorkshire they ran in to problems, with the heavy rain putting the River Thames on flood alert.

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

Motor neurone disease sufferer Nigel, who has some difficulties driving his vessel, took his boat on a 120-lock U-turn and eventually tied it up at its temporary home in the middle of last week.

“We booked our trip in April last year because British Waterways had a first-come-first-served 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.

“Even when we set off Rachel had not been confirmed in the squad but we hoped she would be and could not be more proud.”

The Laybournes saw their 30-year-old daughter make three Olympic appearances, against Russia, Algeria and Italy, including the first-ever Games win for a British volleyball side.

The five-set post-midnight success against Algeria justified their six years of struggle, including turning their back on studies, careers, boyfriends and houses in order to move to the cramped accommodation of the Sheffield Fire and Rescue centre because it was cheap.

When UK Sport took their funding away in 2010, they were forced to pay for their training programme themselves.

“We could not be more proud of Rachel and what she has achieved,” Nigel added. “She has loved this sport since she was 15.”