TV star and Panathlon Ambassador Alex Brooker supported over 100 pupils with disabilities and special needs at our competitions in Calderdale on Tuesday and confessed, “I wish I’d had this opportunity at school!”

Alex – long-time presenter of Channel 4’s The Last Leg and Paralympics coverage and recent runner-up in ITV’s The Masked Singer – dropped in to try out the adapted sports activities, cheer on the competitors and present medals, certificates and trophies at our primary and Xtend double header at Calderdale College in Halifax.

>> See all the pictures from Alex’s visit to our Calderdale Panathlon here <<

Alex was born with congenital abnormalities of his hands and arm, and a twisted right leg which was amputated when he was a baby. At school in South London, he joined in with PE with his mainstream peers and admits it was “always a struggle because everyone else was more able than me.”

Taking part in the Panathlon activities alongside pupils from the 14 competing schools brought home to Alex the powerful impact of inclusive sport opportunities for pupils who are so often denied the chance to compete on a level playing field and represent their school.

“I would’ve loved to have had something like Panathlon when I was at school,” said Alex. “I remember coming last in everything at sports day because I was lumped in with everyone else. I think it’s so important to give all these kids an opportunity to take part in a proper, fair competition and not feel like they’e struggling.”

Alex first saw a Panathlon competition in London in 2013 and immediately wanted to be an Ambassador for the charity. Since then, he has raised £25,000 for us on a celebrity edition of ITV show The Chase and £15,500 on Celebrity Catchphraise.

“I loved Panathlon the very first time I saw it,” he said. “You’ve got to bear in mind that the world of disability is a very broad church. To put on a sporting event that is accessible to everyone is incredibly difficult – take it from me as someone who has covered three Paralympics! So for Panathlon to have given 60,000 kids up and down the country these experiences last year alone is incredible.”

Alex was able to witness first hand the impact it has on pupils with disabilities and special needs in Halifax, where he couldn’t resist joining in at the 10-pin bowling, new age kurling and flight path activity stations.

“I love that there’s a high level of inclusion but it’s competitive as well, not tokenistic. It’s clear that there’s a great deal of teamwork and camaraderie and everyone is getting that priceless feeling of representing your school, which is massive.”

There were 102 children at the primary and Xtend events at Calderdale College on Tuesday (5 March), with Young Leaders guiding pupils and officiating the competition from the host venue and nearby Brooksbank College. The previous day there were another two primary Panathlon events at the college with 114 children involved.

Callum McNulty, School Games Organiser for Calderdale (pictured with Alex below), said: “Panathlon has grown massively over the last few years with a new schools joining and some bringing multiple teams because of the positive impact it’s had.

“Across Calderdale, we give as many opportunities as we possibly can to the students who wouldn’t necessarily be picked for their football or cricket teams. Having Panathlon on board, who are always willing to come and run events at the drop of a hat in our area, is a massive help for us.

“The Young Leaders have been brilliantly adaptable in making sure every student is able to complete every activity to their own level of ability. The leaders may not have day-to-day contact with SEN students, but their guidance has helped give these children what might be the highlight of their year.”