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News > Travel Fund > Announcing the Old Girls' Travel Fund 2023 winners: Charlotte Cotton and Olivia Cuddy

Announcing the Old Girls' Travel Fund 2023 winners: Charlotte Cotton and Olivia Cuddy

Congratulations to both winners!
Charlotte Cotton, one of this year's two Travel Fund winners
Charlotte Cotton, one of this year's two Travel Fund winners

After a two-year hiatus, we are delighted to announce the two winners of the 2023 Old Girls’ Society Travel Fund: Charlotte Cotton (Class of 1999) and Olivia Cuddy (Class of 2015).

Charlotte reced in top International Mountain races across Europe last summer, and Olivia travelled to Trinidad and Tobago for her medical elective placement. You can read all about their experiences below.

Reports of our winners’ travel endeavours will be published later this year. Congratulations to both alumnae! 

To apply for this year's Old Girls' Society Travel Fund 2024, please complete Travel Fund Application Form 2024 and return by 14th April 2024.

Olivia Cuddy

Earlier this year during my final year at Medical School, I had the opportunity to travel to Trinidad and Tobago for a medical elective. Shortly after completing my final examinations, I undertook a four-week placement where I was based in emergency department at Scarborough General Hospital. The hospital is located in the capital of Tobago, a small Caribbean island around 7 miles from the coast of Venezuela.

The emergency department was a busy, fast-paced environment. It was often the first point of contact for many patients needing urgent medical care. I was encouraged to get involved with treating patients. One of my main duties was to see patients in order of medical priority after they had been assessed by the nursing team. I would assess and examine patients and order any investigations I felt appropriate, then would discuss the cases, and formulate a management plan. I saw a wide variety of cases ranging from road traffic accidents to injuries from marine life.

One of the striking differences to my experience of working in the UK was the availability of resources. Certain equipment and medications were less readily available than I was accustomed to. Space was even a limited resource this busy department, with staff often resorting to examine patients in the waiting areas due to a lack of bedspace. However, I was inspired by the resourcefulness of the staff who taught me ways in which they overcome this.

I was also able to learn about the country’s public health system. Similarly to the NHS, Tobago has a completely free healthcare system. Whilst the medical staff were very proud of this, they acknowledge the difficulties that can be faced with accessing care. This meant I often saw patients presenting with issues that would typically be seen by a GP, and in some cases presenting with conditions at a later stage making them harder to treat.

Outside of the hospital, I had the chance to explore the Island and immerse myself in it’s rich culture and breath-taking landscapes. My hosts were keen to show me all of Tobago’s natural beauty and teach me about the history and local cuisine. Tobago is home to a unique ecosystem, with the Main Ridge Rainforest covering most of the island being the oldest protected rainforest in the Western Hemisphere. Surrounding coral reefs meant I was able to see a vast array of rare marine life and animals. The locals I met were extremely passionate about protecting their environment and educating others on this. My visit also coincided with the annual carnival celebrations, so I was lucky enough to experience the first of these since COVID-19 restrictions and learn about their cultural traditions.

This elective has been a transformative opportunity which has not only helped to develop my medical knowledge but allowed me to learn about and experience this incredible community. I have learnt how to manage conditions which would be rarely seen in the UK and how to be resourceful in my approach. Since returning from this placement, I have begun working as a Junior Doctor in London and have been able to apply lessons learnt from Tobago to shape my approach to working with patients.

Charlotte Cotton

I write with joy and gratitude, reflecting on my mountain running and racing journey throughout the summer and autumn of 2023, which was made possible by the ongoing generous support of the Francis Holland School Old Girls’ Travel Fund. Your steadfast belief in my potential has been crucial in nurturing and securing these accomplishments, and I am proud to share these milestones with all of you.
The highlight of the season was the World Masters Mountain Running Championships, where I secured victory in the uphill race in both my age category and the overall championship, becoming the World Champion. 

The race took place in majestic Madeira on a warm day in early September. It was completely uphill being 9km in length with 700m in height gain, which is precisely what I love. I fought hard from the start, taking the lead from the gun, and retaining my position until the end. The training and preparation from the previous months all came together. Your sponsorship was instrumental in making this dream a reality and I heartily wish to convey my appreciation for your continued support on this athletic journey.

In July, I had the honour of representing both Francis Holland and Belgium at the European Masters Mountain Running Championships in Switzerland. Having both British and Belgian ancestry, I decided to honour my Belgian aunt and grandfather who were both Olympians, and so I opted to run for Belgium.

In this race I won the silver medal in my age category and was fourth overall. I was happy with this result. However, I was capable of more. Following the World Championships in November 2022, I had frustratingly suffered an injury which left me unable to compete for more than four months. This was another challenge to be overcome and in March, the road to recovery began. As the 2023 season continued, I gradually increased my strength and stamina with the hope of returning to full fitness.

Between July and October, I embarked on the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup, where I competed in idyllic locations such as Gran Canaria, Spain, Switzerland, France, and Italy. This challenge provided a wonderful opportunity to compete, form friendships and lasting connections with fellow competitors from around the globe. There is something unique about elite mountain runners. We are a humble breed, genuine yet strong willed and fearless. Francis Holland School; the academic powerhouse where I began my studies in Modern Languages has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in fostering these international relations.

In the same period, I also took part in the Vertical KM Skyrunning World series. Some of the more thrilling challenges I embraced, all were steep uphill races involving climbing 1000m or higher in a distance of between 3 and 5km. These races demand speed, strength, and agility; scrambling up rocky mountain faces, ropes and ladders. I won races in Bulgaria and Madeira, qualifying for the final in Italy, finishing third overall. 

Balancing my full-time teaching position at a British school in Madrid with weekend travels for competitions was challenging. Many races coincided with the school term, particularly in September and October. Navigating busy school schedules whilst ensuring optimal conditions for competition, rest, and training presented its demands. However, the experience of competing among exceptional athletes made every effort worthwhile.

In December, I took on a new role as a committee member of the World Mountain Running Association. It is my honour to represent Belgium in this capacity and I am heartened that FHS will be with me on this journey. Once again, I would like to thank you for your unwavering support. Your sponsorship has not only fuelled my athletic achievements but has also engendered a sense of belonging and pride.

I would be delighted to speak to present day pupils to share my experiences and am immensely proud to be an alumna of Francis Holland. I look forward to sharing more adventures with you in the future.

In January 2024, Charlotte excitedly informed us that she has been voted best European Master Off Road Athlete of the Year!

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