The true impact of Panathlon can be found in the stories of its individual competitors and few of these demonstrate the positive power of sport better than that of [Wandsworth youngster] Mahfuz Ahmad.
Mahfuz is deaf and has severe athetoid cerebral palsy. He is able to communicate via sign language, although his disability means this is extremely challenging.
Two years ago Mahfuz was adamant that he didn’t enjoy sport but, to watch him in action at the Westway Sports Centre, you would never have guessed.
The 15-year-old was representing Wandsworth at Panathlon’s Central London Final, part of the team that won a gold medal at boccia, a sport Mahfuz took up when he joined Oak Lodge School of the Deaf in 2011.
“I’ve really enjoyed the day,” said the teenager after collecting his gold medal alongside his team mates before taking part in the relay races. “The best bit was the boccia. Winning the medal made me feel really, really happy.”
Boccia is a strategic target sport similar to boules that requires great accuracy and skill. An inclusive adapted sport, it allows people with the most severe disabilities to take part.
Playing boccia and other Panathlon sports has helped Mahfuz to improve his balance and coordination and has changed his view of PE classes, which have progressed from “alright” at his previous school to “fantastic” since taking up boccia.
This year’s gold medal is not Mahfuz’s first. He also won boccia gold in last year’s Panathlon Challenge Central London competition, whilst his achievements and his all-round enthusiasm led to him being awarded the 2012 Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Award, something he says “made me feel proud. I was really excited.”
Duncan Rowley, a teacher at Oak Lodge School, says that the positive effects of Mahfuz’s involvement in sport have stretched beyond the boccia court.
“Mahfuz’s confidence has just excelled. He obviously has belief in himself now after winning these competitions. He is more confident in his other classes now because of the confidence he has got from here. He’s a really happy boy, because he knows what he has achieved.
“Panathlon is so important. If we didn’t have it, opportunities for children like Mahfuz would be very limited. There are other competitions, but those are for more able students, whereas this gives them the opportunity to compete with other schools and other pupils at the same level.”
Mahfuz, receiving his Outstanding Achievement Award and his Mum and teacher, with Jack Petchey CBE and Liz Johnson, Paralympic Champion