Among the Harrow Team (new London Champions) to have benefitted from competing in the Panathlon Challenge is 16-year-old Fatima Ismail.
Fatima has a degenerative condition that has left her severely visually impaired and reliant on a hearing aid. She will soon be completely blind and deaf.
Despite her disabilities, Fatima has been an integral part of Harrow’s Panathlon team for a number of years.
“I like to take part in sport,” said Fatima. “Last year we finished third and the year before we came second, but it’s just nice coming down and taking part. It’s nice being part of a team. Everyone’s having fun.”
Guided by a teacher, she competes in relay races – “I love to run. It’s my favourite part of the day”
She also competes in the precision bean bag event – a game where competitors throw bean bags onto a grid of numbers on the floor. Despite being able to see no more than just shadows and blurs, Fatima doesn’t let this obvious hindrance hold her back.
She is assisted by a member of staff who claps to help her with direction, but she also relies on “a picture of the board in my head”.
“All the numbers are in my head, coming through my eyes, do you know what I mean?” she said. “I think about where to aim – left, right or middle – and the teachers help.”
Despite competing against children with no visual impairment, Fatima amazingly won the gold medal in the West London final in March to add to her personal medal collection and help book Harrow’s place in the London final, which the team went on to win.
“Panathlon has been so good for Fatima,” said teacher Adam Kielczyk. “Nothing else she does makes her feel as good as playing sport.”
“She is absolutely amazing and, rightly, thinks of herself as a superstar. Her collection of Panathlon medals at home is probably half her room.”
Alongside her love of sport, Fatima is an active member of other school activities. A keen singer, she is a member of the school choir and takes part in regular performances at assemblies.
She also sits on the student council and youth parliament where she’s involved in making decisions about school matters, whilst she takes time to be a mentor to other students, often ones with bad behavioural problems.
“Fatima listens to the other students and deals with problems in such a calm way,” says Kielczyk. “She has the respect of everyone in school. She is such a good role model to the other kids. She shows that you can achieve a lot when you want to do it.”
“She can’t see, she can’t really hear, but she still gets on with everything and she is never negative. It would be easy for her to stay at home and feel sorry for herself, but she has never done that. She’s absolutely amazing.”
A Panathlon regular over the last five years, Fatima is described as “the team’s ambassador”
Kielczyk said,“I’ve taught for 12 years in different countries and I’ve never met anyone like Fatima in my life. I can count on the fingers of one hand the people that I would call truly outstanding. Fatima is one of them.”