Freya-May Perkins revelled in the opportunity to compete on a ‘level playing field’ with her deaf peers at Panathlon’s Deaf Secondary gala at the London 2012 Aquatics Centre. 

Freya-May, 11, attends Knightsfield School for the Deaf in Welwyn Garden City. She has previously achieved some notable results at a swimming club in her hometown of Stevenage, Hertfordshire. 

However, having to lip-read her coach’s instructions and difficulties wearing her cochlear implants in the water have proven to be drawbacks to taking part in swimming in a mainstream environment. 

Panathlon’s gala for secondary-age deaf pupils on February 28 at the Olympic Park removed those barriers, giving her a big confidence boost even though she was the only girl in her school’s team! She even went home with a bronze medal as Knightsfield were pipped narrowly by teams from Mary Hare and Heathlands schools. 

“This will build her confidence massively,” said Freya-May’s mum Wendy. “It’s a great platform to compete against people who are deaf, just like her. 

“Opportunities like this are just fantastic. It shows how she can really excel and feel free when she’s on a level playing field with deaf peers.” 

Freya-May’s dad Matthew added: “She used to swim locally and learned through lip-reading because the cochlear implant underneath her swimming hat kept getting dislodged which she found very off-putting. 

“It was a lot to overcome because she was practising and competing with other young people who could listen and hear in the pool. There were so many mini disadvantages for her and when you add them all up, it really does have an impact. 

“She never missed being promoted into the next group though, she always made the grade even with those disadvantages which is testament to what they can achieve. 

“But today has really brought her out of herself socially – she’s mixing it with the boys and holding her own. These sorts of opportunities really put a smile on her face. 

“The venue is absolutely awesome. Seeing these children being able to compete here is absolutely phenomenal. This is the Olympic and Paralympic legacy right here in front of us.” 

Freya-May added: “It was really fun and amazing. The best bits were… all of it! I’m going to hang this medal on the wall next to my karate medal. This makes me really proud.” 

Knightsfield School Deputy Head Danny Bidwell led the team at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic venue. He added his own praise for the experience it had given pupils. 

“Our pupils get opportunities through Panathlon that they don’t even get in mainstream schools. To come to these special places is really inspiring for them. 

“We have a cabinet in our school reception full of Panathlon medals and trophies. We show it off to visitors when we give people a tour of the school. It shows that just because they go to a special school, it doesn’t mean our children don’t get the chance to compete in things, In fact, they get more because of the fantastic opportunities Panathlon provide.”