Santini Gill (pictured above second from the left) was among the prize winners as Panathlon’s finest young athletes and leaders in London and Essex were recognised at Wednesday’s Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Awards. 

On an afternoon of uplifting success stories and triumphs over adversity in the Olympic Suite at John Lewis Stratford City overlooking London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Santini confessed she was “very happy” to receive her Outstanding Sporting Achievement Award from Paralympic gold medallist and Panathlon Ambassador Liz Johnson. 

Santini, who is 19 and from Sutton, competed in Panathlon competitions for eight years whilst a pupil at Sherwood Park School in Wallington, Surrey, and used that sporting experience to fulfil her ambitions in sport and performing arts. 

Santini has severe learning difficulties, but her many and varied sporting activities helped her develop physical and creative skills that led to her becoming the first ever Sherwood Park student to gain a place at the prestigious Orpheus Centre – an independent specialist college for disabled young adults with a passion for performing arts. 

Whilst at Sherwood Park, Santini excelled at lunchtime Panathlon club, particularly in boccia, new-age kurling and precision bean bag. She was a very active and vital member of the boccia team, helping Sutton reach the London Final on two occasions. 

She was also a member of the after-school basketball and StreetDance clubs, which helped her secure the treasured place at Orpheus. 

Ganymeade Gnahoui, who taught Santini for eight years at Sherwood Park, said: “Santini is always willing to try new things that keep her active. She’s a natural. I’m extremely proud of her and we miss her greatly at school.” 

This year’s Jack Petchey Outstanding Young Leader Award went to Lora Umelue, of St Paul’s Academy in Abbey Wood, South-East London. 

Lora Umelue (centre) with Jack Gair and Liz Johnson

Lora, 17, is described by her school as “our driving force.” She is a health and wellbeing ambassador and sports leader, helping deliver physical activity sessions to her peers at the school’s weekly health and wellbeing club. 

She is a tireless supporter of every fundraising enterprise the school launches, often coming up with concepts herself. These include a Rowathon in aid of mental health charity Mind, a Race for Life for Cancer Research UK involving 400 pupils (organised in conjunction with Panathlon) and a School Advent Charity appeal, which raised £3,000 and saw Lora train pupils and organise enterprising fundraising activities. 

Lora helped deliver the Sport Inspired Community Games Festivals for the last two years, which saw over 200 children with special educational needs take part. Before this, she attended training courses to enable her to help pupils compete in boccia, new-age kurling, polybat, tri-golf, athletics, dance and many more events. She used these learned skills to help deliver Panathlon multisport competitions at St Paul’s for the last two years. 

Her aim is to study medicine at university and become a nurse in Nigeria, the birthplace of her parents, and help improve the country’s healthcare system. 

On receiving her award, Lora, from Greenwich, said: “I was delighted to get the opportunity to train as a Panathlon leader. We learned about all the sports, about non-verbal communication, using your body language in the best way to offer encouragement. 

“Being a Young Leader at the competitions was really interesting; being given the opportunity to work with disabled children, putting smiles on their faces, and excel at sport. It’s a great way of including a wide range of abilities. Sport is a language that everyone can speak.” 

Runners-up in the Outstanding Young Leader category were Hamsa Ghure, Holly Hackman, a student at Chessington Community College, and Layla Sreeraman, of Barking Abbey School. 

Sean Nealon-Lino (centre) with Jack Gair and Liz Johnson

So impressed were they by the application of another Barking Abbey student, Sean Nealon-Lino, that the Jack  Petchey  Foundation  judging  panel  created a special award this year, for Excellence in Sport and Leadership. 

Sean, 18, is an outstanding basketball player who has already represented Scotland at under-16, U18 and senior levels, and has genuine hopes of making the team for the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane next April. 

He was ranked 10th in the Deng Top 50 players in the country on an elite summer training camp this year. His next aim is to gain a full scholarship to study and play in the USA during the next academic year. 

Sean has embarked on the Level 3 Award in Higher Sport Leadership at Barking Abbey, where he has learned how to coach athletes with disabilities and work with the elderly. He has also been a Sports Leader at Panathlon events, as well as Primary Sportshall Athletics and Secondary Disability Aquatics Festivals. 

As a result, Barking Abbey have selected him as a Young Ambassador for Sport. He is a natural sporting role model to his peers. With his scholarship ambitions in mind, he has moved out of home and is now paying rent, shopping and cooking for himself, while at the same time maintaining a high level of academic progress. 

Sean said: “I became a Panathlon leader through my BTEC Sport course and it was eye-opening in many ways. The children were a bit shy, but once I started chatting to them and asking questions, they opened up. It was a great experience. I had never worked with people with disabilities before. I loved it.” 

Presenting the awards were 2015 Panathlon Young Leader of the Year Jack Gair, triple Paralympic medallist swimmer and Panathlon Ambassador Liz Johnson, and Ron Mills, Chair of the Jack Petchey Foundation. The event was also supported by John Lewis Stratford City.

A full gallery of images are available if you click here! 

To read all about the prize winners in the Outstanding Achievement category, click here. 

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