Oliver Flower’s dedication as an athlete and helping others achieve at Panathlon competitions have earned him a 2020 Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement award.
Oliver, 17, has taken part in Panathlon competitions since he was 11, representing Redden Court School and the London Borough of Havering. It has proven a priceless experience for the sport-mad youngster, as he previously found it hard competing with able-bodied children during PE lessons.
That changed when he was introduced to Panathlon in Year 7. He has relished it ever since, honing his skills in boccia, curling, polybat, table cricket and wheelchair racing.
As well as competing with such zest, he always takes times to guide and encourage his fellow competitors – and has been a Young Leaders at many Panathlon events, sometimes alongside his sports coach father Russell!
Oliver has found the Covid-19 lockdowns tough as he has had to shield indoors most of the time due to being classed as extremely clinically vulnerable.
Receiving his ‘Special Recognition Award for Development through Sport’ (part of Panathlon’s annual Jack Petchey awards which honour the best athletes and young leaders from across London and Essex) from Panathlon’s Freya Levy via Zoom was a huge morale boost.
“I’m so pleased, I don’t know what to say,” he beamed. “It’s a really fun experience being at Panathlons, whether I’m competing or leading the activities with my dad. My ambition is to get everyone playing sport and enjoying it.”
Dad Russell added: “Oliver just throws himself into things with 100% effort and enthusiasm and he won’t be daunted no matter what barriers go up in his way. He just doesn’t give up. That’s always been his attitude to life. I am ever so proud of him.”
Oliver and his dad enjoyed staging their own ‘mini Panathlons’ with the family’s two dogs in their garden through the early months of the pandemic. During the summer they took their boccia balls to the local park – where local children joined in.
Covid-19 struck at a particularly unfortunate time for Oliver as he had just been asked to attend national team trials by Boccia England, which subsequently had to be postponed indefinitely.
Nevertheless, with a typical positivity, he is looking forward to the end of Covid restrictions and getting back into competing and leading in Panathlon competitions which have had such an impact on his life.
“We have definitely seen the difference in his confidence and enjoyment from doing Panathlon,” said Russell. “You witness the same change with all the kids you meet at Panathlon’s events. Initially you see the trepidation on their face and by the end of the day they’re smiling from ear to ear. It’s
“He loves to learn new things and pass them on. He acts like a conduit really. It’s his natural instinct. At events, other wheelchair users will gravitate towards boccia and he will tell them, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it’.
“If kids see Oliver doing it, then straight away they want to give it a go themselves, because they don’t then see a barrier. We’ve had a couple of situations where kids have turned up and didn’t want to be involved then Oliver intervened and they really enjoyed it.
“He’s got a positive mental attitude and it’s quite infectious. He has become something of a role model.”
Oliver’s mum Leigh added: “He found mainstream sport very difficult but when he discovered Panathlon, he came alive. He always talks about Panathlon and has all his trophies and medals in his room.
“Panathlon really has boosted him in every way and given him an understanding of other people’s needs as well.”
Oliver said Panathlon has shown him that “using a wheelchair does not stop me from taking part in competitive sport”, adding: “Panathlon has taught and given me so much including, teamwork, communication skills, building confidence, friendship and enjoyment.”
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.