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Sporting heroes swap silverware for the stage

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Issued:20/11/12

South Yorkshire sporting legends Mark Aston and Sarah Stevenson are no stranger to collecting silverware but both said they were honoured to collect doctorates from Sheffield Hallam University earlier today.

Local rugby league legend Mark Aston spoke of the "honour and privilege" of stepping up to receive an honorary doctorate from the University that his Sheffield Eagles team work so closely with, at a Sheffield Hallam graduation ceremony today.

And Doncaster's World Taekwondo Champion Sarah Stevenson MBE said receiving the accolade for her services to sport compared with reading the athletes' oath at London 2012.

In his speech, Mark paid tribute to the "massive relationship" between Sheffield Hallam and the Eagles, which has seen eight of its junior players accepted onto the University's courses this year alone.

Mark's Eagles team defeated the much-fancied Featherstone Rovers for their first major trophy since the 1998 Challenge Cup final win over Wigan in the Co-operative Championship Grand Final on 30 September. So it was another proud moment for the man credited with turning round the fortunes for the Sheffield team since their calamitous merger with Huddersfield Giants and their rebirth in the semi-professional leagues over a decade ago.

Before collecting the award, Mark said: "I have to pinch myself that we did so well in the Grand Final, which put Sheffield back on the [rugby league] map. And to get the honorary doctorate from Sheffield Hallam University is very special to me and something I'm very proud of."

Offering advice to graduates embarking on their careers, Mark said: "Hard work, determination, commitment is the way forward.  And I think a lot of the people graduating today will have done that over the last three years. Don't leave any stone unturned and be the best you can be."

Mark joined Sheffield Eagles in 1985, playing 389 times for the club.  He was also capped for Great Britain. He retired from playing in 2004, a figurehead in the fight to save Sheffield Eagles in 1999 and in their climb back up the rugby league pyramid. He has been working in partnership with Sheffield Hallam for several years, and the University has seen several graduates go on to illustrious playing careers with the Eagles in recent years.

Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson
Mark Aston
Mark Aston and Sarah Stevenson
Mark Aston

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Sarah, who grew up in Bentley and was educated at Don Valley High School in Scawthorpe, said the honorary doctorate capped a remarkable year where she represented Team GB at London 2012 despite the loss of her parents and injury.

She said: "I'm privileged to have been an athlete for the past 20 years and would like to thank the University for honouring me.  Things like the MBE and the Olympic oath are just as important to me as an athletics medal round my neck.

"I will do my best to promote and support the University."

Sarah, who won the world championship in 2011 and was chosen to read the competitors' oath at London 2012, won bronze at Beijing 2008, and although a cruciate ligament injury hindered her medal attempts at London 2012, she has won plaudits from the sport community and beyond for her approach to taekwondo and life.

She became Junior World Champion in 1998, followed by Junior European Champion in 1999.  She went on to become the first British Taekwondo World Champion, ever, in 2001. Sarah has since become four times European Champion and World silver medalist in 2005.

She has set up a company Sarah Stevenson Inspires which aims to motivate, educate and inspire people of all ages to achieve their goals both in and out of the sporting arena.

Mark and Sarah celebrated with students from the University's Faculty of Health and Wellbeing.

For press information contact:Laurie Harvey or Ally Mogg on 0114 225 2621/2811 or email pressoffice@shu.ac.uk