Staff at Ruislip High School labelled Freddie Simpson “an extraordinary pupil” after he was named runner-up in Panathlon’s Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement awards for 2020.

Freddie, 15, has flourished in the sporting arena since taking part in his first Panathlon over three years ago. It has given him the confidence to compete in wheelchair basketball and swimming alongside his other passions – flying, playing the guitar and 70s and 80s rock music!

Due to being born 12 weeks early and having a bleed on the brain, Freddie has diplegic cerebral palsy which affects his lower limbs and spine. He uses a walking frame to get between classrooms and a power chair to travel to and from school, but remains fiercely independent.

In 2016, Freddie underwent multilevel surgery to correct his legs and feet followed by extensive physiotherapy to enable him to walk. He has an exercise programme that he carries out routinely at school and at home.

Despite these challenges, staff say Freddie refuses help in class and is a very conscientious academic.

“He has become a great role model for the whole school,” says teacher Mrs Weir.

“Freddie has extraordinary self-discipline. He is an asset to Ruislip High school as part of the Panathlon team and as a hard-working, independent and high achieving student. He thrives on hard work and knows what he wants to achieve in life.”

Freddie has represented Ruislip High in Panathlon’s boccia and powerchair slalom events and says the competitions have been a springboard to further sporting achievement.

He has joined a wheelchair basketball club, recently taking the “challenging step” of moving from the junior to the senior ranks, and competed in the sport at the London Youth Games.

Freddie is currently transitioning, a process which has in the past caused him anxiety but through which he has now grown in confidence.

He has joined the Equality Club at school and goes swimming with his youth group Gendered Intelligence. “It’s great because as a group we’re allowed to wear what we want as there are no gendered changing rooms. It’s really great for socialising too,” he says.

“Panathlon has really given me confidence to follow these other paths in sport,” he explains. “It has opened a lot of doors for me.

“Previously I kind of thought I couldn’t really do sport. Before we moved to London there weren’t many opportunities, but Panathlon has shown me I am capable of doing so much in sport, and I wouldn’t be doing wheelchair basketball if it wasn’t for their competitions.”

Freddie’s talents extend beyond the basketball court. As well as having a passion for retro rock music such as the Beatles, Queen, David Bowie, Def Leppard and The Kinks, he is taking flying lessons and working towards earning his pilot’s licence (inspired by his parents, who have both served in the RAF). Ultimately, he wants to become either a pilot or an astrophysicist.

Freddie has taken up leadership roles within school and at Panathlon competitions. “I’ve succeeded myself and I really want other to succeed too,” he says. “I’d rather see lots of people achieve rather than just me.

“Sport for me is a way of socialising and having fun as well building up my good health. Maybe I can go on to play wheelchair basketball for a professional club one day but I’m open about it going anywhere.

“Everything I do goes hand in hand. Doing one activity gives me the motivation to do another. If I didn’t do music, I probably wouldn’t be motivated to do sport.”

Freddie’s mum Elaine said she was “extremely proud” of his achievements in the face of significant challenges in his life. “He really is one of a kind,” she added.

Freddie added: “I feel very surprised to win this award. It just feels great. We can’t wait now to get back to competing in Panathlon after this pandemic is over.”

Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, commented”: “Freddie is a great example to all his peers at school and all Panathletes in the London and Essex region. The way he has not only learned and succeeded at our competitions, but used them as a platform to go on and achieve in other areas of his life, is a perfect demonstration of what we are trying to achieve.”

The other overall runner-up in the 2021 Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Awards was 16-year-old Jack Neil from Glebe School in Bromley.

Jack was unfortunately unwell on the day of his trophy presentation in school, but we will be recognising his achievements and telling his story in the near future.

The Jack Petchey Foundation’s support for Panathlon is now into its 16th year. Last year their total funding for the charity passed the £1million mark, and they have just confirmed a further £96,647 to support activity for 5,000 young people with disabilities and special needs in 2021.