Unsung Hero Denise Larrad on continuing her mission

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Community volunteer wins BBC Get Inspired Unsung Hero award 2017

Denise Larrad was named the BBC Get Inspired Unsung Hero for 2017 at the Sports Personality of the Year ceremony in Liverpool.

She continues to lead walking, orienteering, running and general fitness classes for children, families and the elderly. Here, Denise reflects on that night in Liverpool and what it means to be The Unsung Hero:

On the day of BBC Sports Personality I woke up and practised putting on some borrowed make-up as it's not something I had ever done before. We had lunch and then it was time to get ready in the first dress I had ever owned.

We made our way to the red carpet and what an amazing feeling it was - we saw people we recognised everywhere, it was surreal. The arena was huge and full of people and I remember thinking 'thank god I won't have to get up and speak in front of all these people'.

Then it came to what we had all been waiting for: announcing the Unsung Hero winner. My film came on - I had actually won!

That walk to the stage was the shortest and the longest of my life. I was trying really hard to stop myself crying and to think of what to say. I managed both counts.

That night I was so excited I couldn't sleep again. A few hours later we were whisked off to Media City in Salford and what an experience that was. Being on the Breakfast TV red sofa we see every morning with Dan and Naga was something I never dreamed would be possible.

I then went to Nottingham to East Midlands Today [Denise's home region] team and was live on the evening news. They had some clips of my friends saying 'well done'. It was so unexpected - I loved it. My house began to look like a florist. People were recognising me in the street and hugging me. My groups were over the moon. Everyone had seen it and as a result I have quite a few new members.

Since that amazing night and I've been a busy bee getting the Get Inspired message out there. I was asked to talk at England Athletics' Team Spirit conference in Birmingham, where I was interviewed by former 400m runner Donna Fraser.

Denise Larrad (left) with another mascot and
Denise (and another mascot!) and Donna Fraser at the Team Spirit Conference in Birmingham

She rang me the day before and said 'Hi, it's Donna Fraser' and I thought 'it can't be the actual one' - but it was. Who would have thought Olympians would be phoning me up?!

I was at a mascot race in Leicester supporting the county's Move it Boom campaign, getting school kids more active, and I have been asked to join judging panels and go to awards dinners too.

Most importantly, we have had so many new runners, it's amazing what winning a national award does for your numbers. I have even got our local BBC reporter running, she travels an hour to run with us - nobody's safe around me!

Volunteering is what I do. The more I can do the happier I will be.

I love that I am helping people get fit and make new friends that they can do other things with, whether that be active or social.

At the end of the day I may facilitate this, but it's the people in the groups who come out to join me every week that really makes me happy.

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Denise Larrad with one of the groups she helps run

Check back in to BBC Get Inspired through March as we focus on women in grassroots sport every Thursday.