Jamie Brown (pictured above) was among the star competitors as over 200 young people with disabilities and special needs descended on the Copper Box Arena at the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park for the annual Panathlon London Finals.
Jamie, 16, from Croydon, has cerebral palsy, uses an electric wheelchair and is non-verbal, using an iPad for communication. He was chosen for the honour of reading the traditional Panathlon Oath before competition began, with help from the charity’s ambassador Liz Johnson, the former GB Paralympic swimming champion.
Jamie has never let his conditions affect his love of sport; he was co-captain of the Croydon team and skippered his side at the National Schools Boccia Finals in Sheffield.
His teacher at St Giles’ School, Fiona Bell, said: “Jamie is hugely competitive. When we won the Panathlon South London Final in March to qualify for the Copper Box again, I turned round and saw that Jamie was crying; he was so happy. It shows how much this means to him.
“If he didn’t have his disabilities, he is one of those kids who would be in all the school sports teams. But he has found a way to fulfil his potential by working so hard to achieve in boccia and Panathlon events.”
The annual Copper Box finale marks the crowning of the crème de la crème of the capital’s young disabled athletes and is the climax of a whole season’s competition involving 1,500 youngsters in 16 qualifying events from 102 schools representing all 32 London boroughs.
The multisport event sees competitors take part in boccia, polybat, new-age kurling, field athletics and wheelchair races.
Barking and Dagenham were crowned champions for the second year running, pipping Enfield by four points. Team manager Luke Hammett reflected: “I just cannot stress what an amazing event this is. The kids get so much from it. This is their World Cup. It builds their confidence and social skills and their togetherness as a team brings out the best in all of them.”
Another stand-out performer on the day was Abby-Jo Wawrzewski, captain of the Lewisham team who won the Plate competition. Abby-Jo is currently in remission from anaplastic large cell lymphoma and also has hyper-mobility of her leg joints and mild autism. The cancer has caused a variety of side effects which have affected her lungs and stamina.
Before her illness she played football and enjoyed competitive swimming and athletics, but during remission she has focused on boccia, learning tactics from YouTube.
Abby-Jo commented: “It’s been a struggle, but I’ve got through it. I know my limits now and sometimes I go over them, but I do it to get a medal. I just love Panathlon and can’t believe I’m here at the Copper Box.”
Also in attendance was Richard Chiassaro (pictured below in red top), the European T54 sprint wheelchair champion, who will compete for Great Britain in July’s World Para Athletics Championships just yards from the Copper Box at the Olympic Stadium.
He said: “There’s a lot of potential among some of the youngsters I’ve seen here today. There was nothing like this for me when I was a kid. When I had a PE lesson, the kids went out on the field and I was left in the hall on my own, playing basketball.
“That’s why it’s a pleasure to support Panathlon, because it’s so important to give these young people opportunities. There could easily be the World Para athletes of tomorrow here, and their sporting journeys will have started with Panathlon.”
Panathlon Ambassador Liz Johnson, who won gold in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, said: “Staging the Finals at the Copper Box has made it very appealing to youngsters across all the London boroughs and they want to do really well in those early rounds and progress to this iconic venue. It’s really helped the Panathlon movement grow, because the carrot of competing at this venue is there from the start of the pathway.”
The day was attended by many of Panathlon’s much-valued funders, including the Jack Petchey Foundation, the Mayor of London, St James’s Place Foundation and the Woodland Group.
As well as multisport events, Panathlon’s programmes include swimming, boccia and football, with competitive pathways for primary and secondary age groups, as well as deaf and visually impaired students.
The charity gives over 10,000 young people with disabilities and special needs every year the opportunity to take part in competitive sport that they are so often denied elsewhere.
Events take place across England, with winners of local competitions progressing to county, regional and ultimately divisional finals at such prestigious venues as Stoke Mandeville Stadium, The Copper Box Arena and the Olympic Aquatic Centre.
Visit www.panathlon.com to find out how you can get involved.