This year’s Panathlon Jack Petchey Awards Ceremony takes place on November 15 at John Lewis Stratford in London, and will feature the prestigious Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Award. Here, we take a look at Abby-Jo Wawrzewski, one of this year’s nominees for our top prize in London and Essex.

Abby-Jo Wawrzewski’s bravery, determination and leadership skills led to her being nominated for this year’s Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Award – Panathlon’s top individual honour in the London and Essex area.

When Abby-Jo was 12, she was diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She had six months of chemotherapy and then two weeks later she had a relapse, which had spread to her bones. 

Abby-Jo went on a rare trial for seven months, had a transplant and is in remission now. She was one of the few with this type of cancer to go on the trial. 

However, that hasn’t stopped her competing in Panathlon events and in June she continued her remarkable recovery by helping Lewisham to victory in the Panathlon London Finals Plate. 

Boccia was one of the sports in which Lewisham excelled, largely owing to the influence of Abby-Jo, who taught herself the sport by watching YouTube videos as she fought cancer. 

Abby-Jo said: “I couldn’t do a lot (of sports while I was ill), because I had a tube connected to my heart, so I couldn’t really do anything in case a ball got booted at me. I couldn’t get it wet, so that’s why I took an interest in boccia. I’m (now) captain of the team. 

“I learnt more about the rules (on YouTube). Some tournaments are really strict about the rules, where you can’t put your foot past the lines. It requires a lot of research. I did a day’s total (research). It’s very tactical.” 

She is yet to rediscover the stamina she once had and has also been left with asthma as a side-effect of her treatment.

Due to hypermobility problems, in the past she has left nothing on the field of play and given her all to the point she has turned up in a wheelchair the next day because of her knees having been overstretched.

But Abby-Jo, 15, understands what she can and can’t do, and that approach is why sporting events such as Panathlon are so crucial to her. 

“Sport’s really important to me, so having that in my head at the time helped me get through everything,” she said. “I’ve matured and when it comes to sports, I know my limits. 

“I have asthma now, which I didn’t have before. My body’s really weak still, which isn’t helpful, but I still know my limits with sport. I still have blood and allergy tests to see if anything has happened, but so far it hasn’t. In October it’ll be two years (in remission).”

A side effect of her treatment meant that she had warts on her hands and on her feet, which were incredibly painful, but she would pull on her verruca socks and still want to swim, such is her dedication.

Naomi Vann, one of Abby-Jo’s teachers at Brent Knoll School, added: “Sport’s really important to Abby-Jo, so having that in her head at the time helped her get through everything. When it comes to sports, she knows what she can and can’t do.” 

In 2016, Ethan-Beau Howes of Doucecroft School in Colchester was the eighth winner of the Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement award, which celebrates some of the most inspirational individuals to compete in London & Essex Panathlon events each year.  

This year’s Panathlon Jack Petchey Awards Ceremony takes place on November 15 at John Lewis Stratford in London. 

Jack Petchey - Large    John Lewis Stratford City