Volunteers are the backbone of sport in the UK, without them sport just wouldn't be possible.
Behind every sporting champion or grassroots sports club is an army of volunteers who have dedicated their time and efforts to sport. Every Olympic, Paralympic and professional sports star started out at a local sports club or group and any one of them will tell you how important volunteers are and the vital role they've played in their career.
An unsung hero could be anyone, an enthusiastic parent driving a team to training, a passionate neighbour who makes the tea and sandwiches for hungry players or a dedicated coach who gives their time each week, come rain or shine, to see a budding athlete improve- there's no job too big or small for these inspired volunteers!
London 2012 shined a light on these fantastic volunteers. The Games Makers helped to create an outstanding atmosphere and showed us the power of human spirit and goodwill within sport. I was lucky enough to be involved in a small way in the recruitment and training of the Games Makers and am thrilled to see that the enthusiasm and awareness around volunteering continues to grow within the UK, with the Clyde-siders from Glasgow 2014 and Tour Makers from the Tour de France Grand Depart in Yorkshire.
But this is just touching the surface, seven out of 10 grassroots sports clubs still need more volunteers. Keeping this passion and momentum for volunteering is really important and why, in 2012, I agreed to be Patron of Join In, a London 2012 legacy charity that puts more volunteers into community sport. Join In works with volunteers every day, working to connect them with grassroots sports clubs and groups that need help.
With each volunteer creating the capacity for at least 8.5 additional participants in sport (yes - eight and a half people!), it's vital that we keep the volunteering spirit of London 2012 alive to allow sport to develop and grow.
When I was running around the UK, in my haphazard fashion, I saw it every day. The coach and team that helped me train and who encouraged me to bathe in ice when I didn't want to, were incredibly helpful. From the outside running looks like an individual sport but you could not survive with the team that you are a part of. They are the ones that sort you out mentally and physically and the end of every marathon and at the beginning of every day. They share the highs and lows with you. But it's not just the experienced advisors, coach, sports therapist and tour manager that were part of this team, it was the people of Britain as well, the volunteers who took time out to support me.
People lined the streets and did their utmost to help (except a few people who seemed to try to run me over). Kids would cycle with me, teenagers and adults would run, sometimes for miles (one woman ran a whole marathon with me) and people would donate money and give me Jelly Babies and vodka and cheer me on. It's a wonderful thing to see happening and it's happening every day in communities and clubs across the UK (not the vodka bit).
Volunteering helps boost communities, people who volunteer in sport feel closer to their communities, they feel they can trust their communities and that they have an impact on what that community is like. I've seen it first hand, people from different backgrounds, ages and areas coming together for a cause they feel strongly about.
Next year is another fantastic year of sport for us. The England 2015 Rugby World Cup, Euro Hockey, UK Athletics Gold Series and IPC Swimming World Championships are all taking place on home ground. The volunteers' enthusiasm and spirit will help make these events a huge success but we need to capitalise on the success of these big events and help drive more volunteers into community sport and grassroots clubs. Clubs need help and there are roles for everyone; if you are hero enough to run around in the cold with a whistle on a Saturday morningyou can coach, if you are not quite so brave, but you still have determination and gumption you can help with social media. Or there's tea to be made, club houses to be painted, membership forms to fill out- the options are endless.
People volunteer because they want to help and when they do they usually find that they enjoy it - so I would urge everyone to give it a go. Head to your local club and ask if they need help or log onto Joininuk.org and find a club near you. It's as simple as that.