Seventeen-year-old Alfie from Doucecroft School in Colchester has won the Jack Petchey Foundation Young Leader of the Year award for flourishing as a sporting leader of his younger peers.
Alfie has autism and the pandemic has caused him extreme anxiety and low spirits as the sport, leadership and charity work which he so enjoyed had to be curtailed.
As restrictions have eased, his opportunities have gradually opened up again, culminating in him joining a team of younger Doucecroft pupils at two recent swimming galas at the London 2012 Aquatics Centre in January. His team finished first in the Panathlon Essex Primary Discovery gala and third in the ‘traditional’ Panathlon competition the following week. He also wore the famous Panathlon pink Young Leaders t-shirt at the North Essex Primary Panathlon competition at Colchester Sports Park in March.
At the Aquatics Centre, Alfie encouraged, guided, coached and cajoled from the edge of the pool and revelled in being a leader and role model to his peers.
Doucecroft’s sports coach Andrea Griffiths said: “The pandemic has been hideous for Alfie and he has been extremely low at times. He is always putting himself down but he is incredibly giving and kind with the younger students.
“They look up to Alfie, take advice for him and look to him for instructions. Him doing that is a really big thing. He is thriving today because he has been given that opportunity to take a leading role.”
Alfie also recently supported Doucecroft’s Key Stage 3 students on a gymnastics trip and has performed the same role at other Panathlon swimming and multisport competitions. During the lockdowns, he led in-school Virtual Panathlon activity and undertook work experience alongside Panathlon’s Event Manager Howard Nicholls when he visited the school site to lead a multisport competition.
He helped Howard set up the equipment then guided younger pupils with the activities and learned how to officiate and keep score.
During the lockdowns, Alfie was filmed performing demonstrations of Panathlon’s virtual activities so clips could be sent to pupils who were having to isolate at home. The videos enabled them to take part in Panathlon in their own houses and gardens, keeping them active and reducing their sense of isolation.
Alfie said: “I help Andrea set up sports activities in PE classes which have the same stations as Panathlons. Basically, I do all the work! It feels good using my grown-up skills and helping the younger children with communication and social skills. I like feeling like an adult!”
When Alfie took his Sports Leader qualification and had to deliver sporting activity to a group of Key Stage 2 children, he chose Panathlon’s multisport disciplines for his sessions. “He could have chosen any sport, but he chose Panathlon because he knew that would get the most out of the students,” said Andrea.
“He really cares about their feelings and giving them the best experience. They gave him really good feedback afterwards. A lot of our younger students really look up to him.”
Alfie’s own sporting achievements are hugely impressive. He is part of Orwell Panthers Athletics Club for disabled athletes and Ipswich Harriers. Each day, he times his morning run so he can be back in time to support younger pupils on the school’s Daily Mile. “I want to be a postman when I’m older but I’ll definitely keep up my running,” he says.
This year he will be entering the 200m and 400m at the Special Olympics at Lee Valley in London. He has a personal best of 25 seconds for 200m and is aiming to beat a minute for 400m. He has also done work experience in a charity shop in nearby Manningtree and has raised money for charities.
Of his leadership roles, Alfie said: “I like being given the responsibility. When you help it feels a little bit special. The younger ones need more support than the older ones so I enjoy stepping in and helping them.
“I just love to be involved in Panathlon as a helper or an athlete. I love to compete against different schools and see how well we’re doing. If Panathlon was ever taken away it would make me extremely sad.”
Andrea added: “Alfie is amazing. He has got a heart of gold and if anyone is struggling, he will be the first one there to help and support them. He will take them to the side, sit with them and spend time telling them they can do it. If you want anything done, he is who you turn to.”
Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “We at Panathlon love seeing Alfie as part of our events and in-school delivery at Doucecroft. Through a very tough time, he shone through the pandemic and his enthusiasm for sport brings his leadership qualities to the fore.”