We tend to stereotype teenage girls as obsessively hanging out with friends, talking on their mobiles non-stop and stressing about what to wear, but Charlotte Wharton is certainly no typical teenager. Charlotte is going down in British history as an Olympic relay torchbearer.
In January, the outgoing 16-year-old student from Wrestlingworth was shocked to receive an email notifying her that she’d been nominated as a torchbearer. She had no idea that Sue Burke had sent in an application on her behalf, extolling her work as a water skiing athlete, children’s’ water skiing coach, and judge. Burke is the mother of a fellow water skier and feels that water skiing should be represented in the relay. In her application, Burke wrote: “It would be great if she could carry the flame in honour of her sporting achievements but also to represent the other members of this sport who train and work extremely hard to represent their country, but also will never be able to compete in these games.”
Charlotte’s nominator describes her as “one of the most dedicated athletes I know, training consistently throughout the winter and summer both in the UK and abroad. Like other teenage athletes she has to balance training and her school work having just completed her GCSEs.”
Charlotte began water skiing at age 6, when a friend of her father’s introduced both her and her father to the sport. What started as a bit of fun evolved into serious regular training in Lincoln for the British water ski team for international events. She recently competed in the United States, coming in second place in the slalom jump.
Her water skiing talents have not only won competitions, but a scholarship to university in Lousiana where she will begin her studies in accountancy in August. Her 19-year-old brother has just finished his first year at the same university, so this isn’t unfamiliar territory for Charlotte.
Out of 62 million people in Britain, only 8,000 have the honour of holding an Olympic torch along the relay. After Charlotte replied to the nomination email, she underwent a security check and was finally confirmed as a torch bearer in late March. Charlotte is doing the Letchworth leg of the relay but will not be told the exact route or be given the torch and uniform until 10 days before her relay on July 8th.
Her torch is being paid for by Samsung, and other torch bearers have either opted to go with a corporate sponsor or pay for their own torches if they have nominated themselves. Once Olympic officials relieve the torch of its flame, the torch is hers to keep. She is aware of other participants who have put their torches up for sale online. “I would never sell it,” she says solemnly. “There are only 8,000 torches in the country. I want to keep it forever.”
Charlotte’s main concern is the unexpected. Earlier relay participants had rehearsals, but they are no longer doing them. “It’s a big thing,” Charlotte says. “I don’t know what to expect.” She says that knowing that friends and family will be cheering her on will help calm her nerves.
Life after the Olympic relay will be a busy one for Charlotte. She will compete in the Nationals in the summer, Collegiate Nationals after she starts university, and the Junior Worlds in February 2013. She will also be talking about her Olympic experience to the next generation of potential water skiers at local primary schools.
Although the relay is only one day in the busy life of this young athlete and student, it’s an experience that will undoubtedly stay with her forever - and hers is one torch you will never see on eBay.