16-year-old Faizan Bidiwala, who has Downs Syndrome and underwent a life-saving heart operation just three years ago, received Panathlon’s top individual honour at the 2014 Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Awards, held in the Olympic Gallery at John Lewis Stratford City.
The student at Little Heath School in Romford collected his award from triple-Paralympic medallist Liz Johnson, having been selected from a shortlist of five inspirational individuals out of the 4,000 disabled young people to take part in the Panathlon Challenge this year.
Jen Christensen, teacher at Little Heath School, said: “We are extremely proud of Faizan. He has always worked so hard and strived to succeed, but he always wants to make sure that everyone is involved in the process as well. This is a huge achievement for Faizan. It’s amazing.”
Faizan arrived in Ilford from Pakistan three years ago with very limited English and a heart condition related to his Downs Syndrome that left him short of breath and jaundiced after even a small amount of exercise, severely restricting his participation in any sport.
After recovering from his major heart surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Faizan became involved in Panathlon’s multi-sport competitions, which use adaptive equipment to make them accessible to people with a range of disabilities. He has since gone on to represent his school at boccia and cricket and become a key member of the Redbridge Panathlon team, who won the London Plate Final at the Copper Box Arena in the Olympic Park in June.
Danial Bidiwala, Faizan’s father, said: “I am very proud of Faizan and very happy for him to receive this award. He is a very good boy, no doubt about it. Panathlon has helped Faizan, by giving him a platform to develop. He has done very well and we are very happy about it.”
Panathlon provides sporting opportunities for over 4,000 disabled young people each year. Over 400 schools took part in Panathlon’s 84 ‘mini Paralympic’ competitions in 2013/14, with 35,000 active hours of sport provided to disabled children.
Panathlon ambassador Liz Johnson said: “Faizan is so inspiring. Before his heart operation, he couldn’t run a few steps without getting out of breath. Today, he leapt up to the stage to receive his award. You wouldn’t recognise him as the same child as that his teacher described previously. Panathlon has given him a purpose and an arena where he can achieve and relate to other peers that maybe he couldn’t have done before. In turn, his family can see how he develops. They are all here supporting him today, so hopefully they can push him on to be the best that he can be.”
Being involved in Panathlon has proved of great benefit to Faizan and his teachers at Little Heath School have seen him develop both in and away from the sporting arena, by making him a team player, giving him a sense of competition and helping to make him gracious in defeat.
Ms Christensen, Faizan’s PE teacher for the last five years, added: “Faizan is a true inspiration for everyone. His determination to succeed is outstanding; he always gives his best performance, whether in academic, sporting or vocational pursuits. He is fiercely competitive but really supports his team and is encouraging to those who are having a bad day! He is a great role model for his team mates and other disabled pupils.”
Phillip Allinson, Head of Events at the Jack Petchey Foundation, who have supported Panathlon for the last decade, said: “We’re tremendously proud at the Foundation of our work with Panathlon. It is incredibly important that we recognise the achievements of these young people and also the thousands who take part in sport through Panathlon. Sport is a great leveller. It’s amazing when people can work together and be part of a team, support and encourage each other to achieve and succeed. That is what Panathlon does. At the Jack Petchey Foundation we want to celebrate achievement, so we’re very proud to be part of this.”
John Lewis Stratford City have supported Panathlon since the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The store overlooks the Olympic Park, where this year’s Panathlon London Final took place at the Copper Box Arena in June.
Ruth Scharvona, Managing Director at John Lewis Stratford City said: “We’re very proud to support Panathlon and their work in providing kids with a range of disabilities a chance to participate in sport. It’s great to see their work come alive through events like the final at the Copper Box here at the Olympic Park. It was amazing. The noise, atmosphere, excitement and competitiveness – you really felt it in there. It’s great to see the Olympic and Paralympic legacy doing what it’s meant to do. We’re thrilled that our relationship with Panathlon, which started with London 2012, is still going strong two years later.”
15-year-old Scott Pope, from Dagenham, was runner-up in the Outstanding Achievement Awards, while 11-year-old Malik Berbiche, from Harefield, was highly commended in third place.
David Ejinkonye of St Paul’s Academy in Greenwich was named as the Young Leader of the Year, while Jason Bates of Sherwood Park School in Sutton collected the Sporting Achievement Award.