Jack Greer of Doucecroft School in Colchester has been named Panathlon’s Jack Petchey Foundation ‘Outstanding Achiever of the Year’ for overcoming huge challenges to succeed inside and outside the sporting arena.
The annual Outstanding Achievement awards recognise the most impressive young Panathletes with disabilities and special needs from across London and Essex. The awards panel selected Jack from over 3,000 eligible Panathlon competitors across the region.
Jack’s mum Barbara declared herself “bursting with pride” while father Tony said: “Jack has been through so much in his life – I don’t think there are words to express how proud we are.”
After being presented with the award by the Jack Petchey Foundation’s Head of Partnerships, Vicky Mirfin, 17-year-old Jack declared: “This makes me very happy!”
Jack has Global Development Delay, Autism Spectrum Disorder, complex learning difficulties, Sensory Integration Disorder, ADHD, Tourette’s, Hyper Mobility/Lax Ligaments, co-ordination difficulties and Genu valgum (knock knees) with a deformed foot and suffers with exotropia which affects his eyes.
Over the past six years he has undergone numerous operations and physio on his legs which have hindered his mobility. Recently he had to endure three weeks of having plasters on his legs to straighten his Achilles tendons. He now wears a night splint and knee brace on his left leg to maintain the stretch and try to prevent his foot from clawing any further, which can cause him cramp and prevent him from sleeping.
Jack has also had to endure countless painful cryogenic procedures on his hands.
Jack’s many sensory difficulties have caused him huge anxieties in the past, particularly around sudden loud noises and being in noisy environments, which have led to him displaying some challenging behaviours.
Mum Barbara recalls how he could not cope with trips to the swimming pool or sports hall because the sound of a whistle or children shouting with excitement would cause him to have “a complete meltdown.”
The last six years have seen Jack endure endless surgery, including six operations on his legs which often render him completely immobile, and countless painful cryogenic procedures on his hands.
Jack is now 6ft 3” and his growth spurt saw him undergo three weeks with plasters on both his lower legs to stretch his Achilles tendons. He now wears a night splint on his left leg and a brace to stop his knee from twisting, which causes him cramp in the night.
Despite all this pain, discomfort and adversity, Jack has flourished since starting at Doucecroft School in 2012. He has overcome his fears and anxieties to the extent that he has thrown himself into Panathlon’s competitive sporting opportunities – particularly swimming. His highlight so far was competing in a Panathlon gala at the London 2012 Aquatics Centre and meeting Olympic diver Tom Daley.
It has proved a real turning point, as Doucecroft’s sports coach Andrea Griffiths (who nominated Jack for the award) explains: “Jack was one of our first pupils to try Panathlon. It always brings the best out in him. He always gives 100% and he just loves it. He will approach teams from other schools and make friends with them. It has given him so much independence.”
Panathlon has also given Jack the confidence to participate fully in the local Boys’ Brigade. Initially he was overwhelmed, found it difficult to cope and had to have two carers accompany him at all times. Now he has only one, who observes from the sidelines as he participates in such events as the annual swimming gala and their Highland Games.
Jack has also raised money for local charities by taking part in the Rotary Club ‘swimathon’, for which he received a special award. He was recently able to start work experience in a local community café
where he proved to be very popular with the elderly customers.
Jack’s passion has always been music, but his need to be in control of the sounds around him made it difficult for him to enjoy. However, he now plays the guitar and was a band member of the Colchester Rock Project in their last concert. He also took part in a school talent competition, singing Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash.
In October, Jack performed as an Elvis Presley tribute, singing Blue Suede Shoes with a professional rockabilly band at his Nana’s 80th Rock and Roll birthday party. He has ambitions of being a DJ and his musical idol is Ed Sheeran.
Following his diagnosis with GDD, Jack also started to learn Makaton signing to enable him to communicate more effectively.
This astounding progress has amazed his teachers, including Amanda Collett. She said: “Jack is the most positive person you can possibly imagine. He is an absolute pleasure and a joy to teach. He always adds fun to the atmosphere and we’re so proud of him.”
Dad Tony added: “From the day Jack started at Doucecroft he was a different boy. It was the making of him. With his anxieties and behavioural problems when he was around other children who made noise, we never would’ve believed he could thrive as he has done in team sports, which is thanks to the fabulous Doucecroft staff and Panathlon.”
Mum Barbara said: “My heart is bursting with pride. Jack has come such a long way and he handles everything he goes through with a great big smile and never complains. He has such an amazing personality.
“My thanks goes out to Doucecroft School and Panathlon for encouraging him to try new experiences, for their passion for getting all kids involved in sports and creating the opportunities to participate in competitions. It builds their confidence, gives them the feeling of being part of a team and pride at representing their school.
“Thank you also to the Jack Petchey Foundation for recognising that even the smallest of achievements for our kids can be the biggest deal breakers, and honouring them for their bravery and resilience.”
UPDATE: As a result of winning his Jack Petchey prize, Jack was invited on to award-winning radio station Gateway 97.8 as a guest on their regular slot ‘Autism Hour’. He spoke brilliantly about his experiences at Doucecroft School and at Panathlon competitions.
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.
(Main pic (l-r): Louise Parkinson – head teacher, Andrea Griffiths – sports coach, Jack, Amanda Collett – class teacher, Hayley Fraser – assistant headteacher)