Helen Thompson’s incredible ascent from swimming novice to the international stage has earned her recognition in this year’s Panathlon Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement awards.

Helen couldn’t swim when she arrived at Market Field School in Colchester, Essex, aged 11. But just four years later, she won two medals and broke records for Great Britain in the World Down Syndrome Swimming Championships in Nova Scotia, Canada!

Panathlon played a big part in Helen, now 17, falling in love with the water. She has continued to train, when restrictions allow, through the pandemic and has more recently broken two more personal best times.

Her incredible progress has now seen her awarded the Hassan Ahmed Sporting Achievement Award in this year’s annual Panathlon Jack Petchey awards, which honour our finest achievers across London and Essex.

Colchester Phoenix Swimming Club is where Helen’s rapid progress has been nurtured, but Panathlon helped to kickstart her success in competitive swimming. Before Covid-19, Market Field were regular competitors in our swimming galas, including or 2019 National U18 Finals at the London 2012 Aquatics Centre.

Helen has now graduated from school to Market Field College, where she is captain of the swimming and hockey teams. There is a collage of her certificates and news articles pinned to the college wall.

She was overjoyed to receive her award in front of her classmates just before Christmas, and said she was going to put the trophy alongside her swimming medals in her bedroom.

“I feel very happy and very excited,” she said. “My ambition is to be in the Paralympics.”

Her teacher, Mr Hudson, said: “We are incredibly proud of Helen. We’ve given Helen her own dedicated board on the wall because we’re very keen to show off what she’s achieved. We’re all backing her to be a Paralympic athlete.

“Helen is very dedicated in my PE lessons. She is a team leader and captain of several teams and she has an infectious laugh!

“Her fitness levels amaze me. I know she went on a 30km bike ride with her mum during lockdown and has been out running independently. That’s really impressive. In the classroom she brings that energy about her. We’re very pleased to have her in class and proud of all that she’s achieved.”

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.