Panathlon has rewarded 12-year-old Lucas White for his wonderful achievements as a Panathlon Young Leader despite living with a life-limiting condition which will soon force him to use a powerchair permanently.

Lucas, pictured above with Mr Sapsford, Director of Sport at Shenfield School in Essex, has been named as the winner of our 2024 Jack Petchey Foundation Young Leader of the Year award for taking on sports leadership roles in spite of the adversity caused by having Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The degenerative, life-limiting condition is causing his mobility to decline, but taking part in Panathlon competitions and in leadership roles gives him a platform to thrive (and match the sporting achievements of his sport-mad sister!).

Lucas is part of a team of Shenfield Panathletes who have been given roles as Young Leaders in primary Panathlon new-age kurling and boccia events, guiding the pupils and officiating the competition. (In recent years, Shenfield have provided many teams of trained Young Leaders for Panathlon events at the school and at the London Aquatic Centre.)

“Being a leader is special for Lucas and the others,” said his teacher Fiona Arnold. “He took part in Panathlon events at primary age and now he was leading the activities for others. They were proud to stand there and be part of that support team. Some of the kids you don’t think will be up for it actually thrive when you give them a little bit of responsibility.”

Lucas was part of the Shenfield School team that took part in Panathlon’s Essex secondary swimming gala on 18 January at the London Aquatic Centre and was on the team that qualified for our London & Essex secondary 10-pin bowling Grand Prix Final. At his primary school, Brightside in Billericay, he also took part in our boccia, seated volleyball and 10-pin bowling competitions.

Lucas’s mum Katy White said: “Because of Lucas’s condition, he is transitioning into a wheelchair at the moment. Starting secondary school and losing the ability to walk is obviously very tough for him. He’s still just about ambulant at the moment but we know where it’s heading.

“He hates being different. He just wants to be like everyone else and Panathlon gives him an opportunity just to fit in. Being able to represent the school is wonderful for his wellbeing. He was on the front of the school newsletter after Panathlon last term, so it’s lovely to see that the school recognise its importance as well.”

Lucas’s mum is a PE teacher and one of his two sisters is particularly sporty. Katy explained: “To have that opportunity to play his part in our sporty chats and achievements is wonderful. He couldn’t wait to tell us about competing in the Olympic pool. It’s so good for his mental wellbeing.”

Lucas’ teacher Fiona (who is also School Games Organiser for Brentwood and Shenfield) now runs a SEND swimming club after school on a Friday for Lucas and the rest of Shenfield’s Panathletes. Fiona said: “That activity wouldn’t have happened had we not got that group involved in sport through Panathlon.”

Lucas has also started powerchair football. Mum Katy said: “He just loves sport, exercise and being competitive, so I must say a massive thank you to Panathlon and the school staff for providing these opportunities.”

After his diagnosis, Lucas’s family set up MuscleUp For Lucas to fundraise for his powerchair and medical and health treatment such as hydrotherapy. You can read more and donate here.

Fiona commented: “Lucas is fiercely independent and I love that about him. He is also competitive, he wants to win and Panathlon provides him with that outlet for his competitiveness. He unfortunately can’t play football or basketball for the school, but Panathlon has given him that opportunity. There isn’t anybody else providing that.”