Hannah Awoleye has been hailed as “an incredible individual” after winning the Young Leader prize in our 2020 Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement awards.

Hannah is a bastion for inclusive sport and a role model to her peers at Alexandra Park school in Haringey, North London. Since the school started competing in Panathlon last year, she has seized the opportunity to lead and inspire her team-mates.

Her dedication has been recognised by the awards panel from Jack Petchey Foundation, who each year select the most outstanding young achievers in Panathlon from across London and Essex.

Hannah’s ‘can do’ attitude to participating in sport alongside fellow pupils in a mainstream setting is hugely admirable when you consider Hannah has Schmid-Fraccaro (Cat-Eye) Syndrome, which gives her a divergent squint. She also has global development delay, bilateral cognitive hearing loss and pain in her bones when it is cold.

She can find it difficult to run and walk quickly, can struggle to maintain focus and sometimes has difficulty retaining information, so may find new concepts difficult to grasp.

None of these challenges have for a minute diminished her passion for sport and leading others on the field of play.

“She doesn’t care whether the playground is full of boys or not, she is always out there playing football. In doing so, she inspires a lot of other girls to take part who I’d suggest wouldn’t normally have done so without such a powerful role model,” said Alexandra Park School’s specialist PE teacher Brendan Amooty.

“She’s an incredible individual. Our school’s motto is ‘Success for all’ and Hannah is a shining example of how our students strive to succeed no matter what barriers life puts in their way.”

Hannah is a Girls Active Mentor and is captain of Alexandra Park’s inclusive girls’ football team who have competed in two festivals. She is a leader at the school’s weekly inclusive sports sessions and has thrown herself into boccia, New-Age Kurling, football, cricket, polybat and tennis. Her enthusiasm has prompted several of her friends to join in.

She has helped improve others’ performances by officiating, coaching and offering advice. She visited a local primary school and helped train their Year 3 and 4 team for last year’s London Youth Games.

Mr Amooty said: “She’s a very mature child who just excels at social relationships. She is very easy-going and able to nurture younger students. That’s one of her real strengths. When it comes to delivering sport in a leadership role she can be like a big sister to some of the younger students.”

Hannah and her inclusive sport team-mates were recognised last year at the Haringey Council ‘Celebrating Sporting Success’ Awards. They won 2019 Disability Team of the Year for their successes in a variety of London Youth Games inclusive competitions and a Bell Boat Regatta.

2019/20 was Alexandra Park’s first year of involvement with Panathlon and it has already inspired more pupils with additional needs to attend the school’s weekly sports sessions.

“Participating in Panathlon has been such a wonderful addition and has meant that we can now offer more children a suitable opportunity to compete than ever before,” explains Mr Amooty.

“Hannah has played a massive part in preparing our team for this experience and supporting them on the day of the competitions.

“She has got involved in everything from polybat, table cricket, athletics and javelin and is captain of our boccia team. We’ve got another girl who’s recovering from a stroke and Hannah was supporting her in the new-age kurling. Hannah is just one of those characters who really gels the team together.

“She has grown in confidence over the last three years partly due to her involvement in sport and the Panathlon Challenge. Her ‘can do’ attitude has helped her to achieve not just in sport but academically as well. Next year she has opted for a Sports Management course at school, where she will be following the Youth Sports Award to gain further experience and qualifications in sports leadership.

“She never draws attention to her physical challenges. She gets on with everything as if there were no issue at all. Whatever life throws at her, she never allows it to faze her.”

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.