Priory School from Bury St Edmunds will be among the Panathlon teams swimming at the Aquatic Centre in the Olympic Park this July, after they won the Suffolk Panathlon Swim Gala in Ipswich today.

The Suffolk champions will compete at Panathlon’s South of England Swim Finals on 6 July at the iconic Aquatic Centre, venue for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, having seen off competition from four other schools at the Suffolk gala.

With Team GB wheelchair basketball player Freya Levy watching on, 104 students from 13 schools took to the water for a fantastic day of swimming action at Ipswich’s Crown Pools, which featured two competitions – the Panathlon Swim Challenge and the Discovery Swim Challenge – combining individual races and team events for swimmers of all abilities.

The team of eight students from Priory School won the Panathlon competition having come out on top in the 11 event competition, while Holbrook Academy were named Discovery Champions, having finished runners-up in 2014.

IMG_3836“It’s lovely,” said Jane Chave, PE teacher at Priory School. “We’ve been lucky enough to win this event before, but this is the first time the winners have gone through to the Olympic Park.

“The children didn’t know until the very last minute whether we’d won, so it’s terrific. We had some last minute changes to the team and some of the children have never competed for the school before, so they really have been fantastic.

“The nicest thing here is that there is a level playing field. Whatever disability you have, the scoring system levels it out, so kids with all sorts of disabilities can compete against one another. It’s great because they are all involved. It’s a team thing – almost every race is a team event.”

One of the delighted team members, 16-year-old Max Ross said: “It’s been really good. I’ve never really done this sort of thing before. It’s my first time in a swimming competition and it’s been pretty amazing. Everyone’s competing and being part of it, but it’s all about having fun.

“My favourite challenge was the one where you had to pick out a load of toys and then bring them back. Teamwork was the most important thing – it was all about working as a team. Now we’re going to London, which will be fun!”

IMG_379514-year-old Colby Butlin, for whom participation in the Panathlon Swim Gala had been used as an incentive to help encourage good behaviour in school, was equally thrilled.

“It’s awesome,” said Colby. “My favourite event is the freestyle. I love to go as fast as I can. I’ve done it a couple of times before, but I love taking part and it keeps me out of trouble!”

Panathlon’s swimming programme began in 2013 to introduce severely disabled young people to water, often for the first time, in a competition that combines traditional gala events with team challenges. It has already seen over 650 disabled children across the country take to the water in its fun competitions, 35 percent of them for the first time.

Freya LevyThe third annual Suffolk Swim Gala was the largest event in Panathlon’s swimming programme and was enjoyed by the watching Freya Levy – a member of the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team.

“This is my first Panathlon swimming event and it has been really exciting. Although it’s a competition, the kids are having a lot of fun, which is really important,” said 19-year-old Freya, who has been in a wheelchair since being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 2010.

“It’s fantastic what Panathlon does for disabled children. When I was first disabled and in a mainstream school, PE was really limited. I played table tennis, but the teachers didn’t really know what to do with me.

“Panathlon sports are all adapted so that they are suitable for disabled children. If Panathlon had been available to me when I first disabled, it would have helped me a lot for sure.”

Emma Holloway FoundationThe Panathlon Swim Gala was supported by the Emma Holloway Foundation, founded in 2010 to benefit youth disability sport in Suffolk. With the support of the Foundation, Panathlon will this year alone provide sporting opportunities to over 400 children across Suffolk, across a range of Panathlon programmes.

Thanks also must go to Suffolk School Games, Comic Relief,  Suffolk Community Foundation, Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Norse Swimming, Ipswich Swim Academy and Crown Pools.

Holbrook Academy won the day’s other competition, the Discovery Swim Challenge, which featured eight schools from Suffolk’s Discovery Programme – established in 2010 to benefit young people in Ipswich and South Suffolk.

Read more reaction from the teams on a “special” day at the Suffolk Swim Gala and check out all the action from the day in the image gallery below.

Panathlon Swim Challenge results:

1st – Priory School, Bury St Edmunds – 60 points
2nd – Hillside School, Sudbury – 48
3rd – Thomas Wolsey School, Ipswich – 44
4th – Stone Lodge Academy, Ipswich – 43
5th – The Bridge School, Ipswich – 32

Discovery Swim Challenge results:

1st – Holbrook Academy – 77 points
2nd – East Bergholt High School – 73
3rd – Claydon High School – 69
4th – Farlingaye High School, Woodbridge – 68
5th – Copleston High School, Ipswich – 57
6th – Felixstowe Academy – 54
7th – Westbourne Academy, Ipswich – 40
8th – Northgate High School, Ipswich – 39