Oscar Sullivan’s determination and positivity in the face of severe adversity has earned him a runner-up trophy in Panathlon’s 2021/22 Jack Petchey Foundation Outstanding Achievement awards.
Oscar is a Year 9 pupil at Hall Mead School in Upminster, East London. He has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative, life-limiting, muscle-wasting condition that has restricted his mobility to such a degree that he now has to use a wheelchair. He has also learning difficulties.
His worsening physical condition has not affected Oscar’s attitude towards PE and sport. With the help, inspiration and motivation provided by staff at Hall Mead’s Personal Learning Centre (PLC) – particularly Mr Rooke and Mrs Mitchell – Oscar has continued to take part in PE lessons and be part of the school’s Panathlon team.
Oscar was presented with his Outstanding Achievement runner-up trophy by Panathlon ambassador Freya Levy, our multi-parasport GB and England international, who also has muscular dystrophy. Freya surprised Oscar by turning up at his house and chatted to him for almost two hours about her achievements and his passion for sport.
Oscar, a huge Liverpool fan, went to his first Panathlon event in Year 4 (when he was still able to walk and run, albeit slowly) and felt comfortable around children with similar abilities. In 2019, the Hall Mead team won gold at the East London Football Final, thus qualifying for Panathlon’s Wembley showpiece final. “He was bursting with pride,” said his teacher Miss Mitchell.
Panathlon’s London Football competition resumed post-pandemic and Oscar came to this year’s East London Final in Newham to support his team-mates, although his wheelchair did not allow him out on to the 4G astroturf.
Up until recently, Oscar was one of only two wheelchair users at his school. Poignantly, while Oscar’s condition deteriorates, the other pupil was recently able to get out of his wheelchair and run around the playground.
Rather than feel sorry for himself, Oscar was delighted for his friend. “He wasn’t one bit jealous,” explains Oscar’s mum Nina. “He said, ‘You can walk, that’s brilliant!’
“I’m super proud of him. He is such a happy, lovely boy. Whatever life throws at him, he deals with it and gets on with it. He is always so determined.”
Thirteen-year-old Oscar had stem cell treatment in October 2019 and June 2020, some of which was extremely painful. For the last seven years, he has done up to an hour of stretching and exercises every morning and cycling on a static bike throughout the day, which he does without complaint.
It was during the first Covid-19 lockdown that his condition deteriorated quickly. Unable to access face-to-face physio appointments or hydrotherapy for seven months, he nevertheless took school lessons online and stayed at home with mum, dad Nicky and 12-year-old sister Georgie.
Oscar was initially reluctant to go back to school after lockdown as he feared the unwanted attention that his wheelchair might cause. However, he now loves his friends pushing him around and teacher Mrs Mitchell says: “It means the world to him to be included.
“He feels very protected in the Personal Learning Centre of the school which can cater for all his needs. He still, unfortunately, feels like students from the mainstream are looking at him, despite words of reassurance that they are merely curious or not looking at all.”
Nevertheless, Oscar has a great bond with his circle of friends in the PLC and loves chatting to them while playing FIFA and Fortnite online.
He throws himself wholeheartedly into his inclusive PE lessons, in which some activities are based on those in Panathlon competitions.
Mrs Mitchell said: “Oscar enjoys his PE lessons so much. It’s something he looks forward to each week, especially playing football. Oscar doesn’t let his disability stop him from taking part in football come rain or cold. He’ll just wrap up and give amazing effort.”
He was inspired by Panathlon ambassador Nathan Maguire when he competed in last year’s Paralympics in Tokyo. He particularly loved Channel 4’s advertisement which used the strapline, ‘It’s rude not to stare!’
Mum Nina, who works as a Learning Support Assistant at nearby Redden Court School (who also take part in Panathlon) says Oscar’s optimistic nature has been an inspiration to the family.
“He was so pleased with himself to receive the award and meet Freya. We didn’t tell him she was coming so it was a complete surprise.
“We must thank Mr Rook and Mrs Mitchell because they are both amazing at making sure Oscar is always included in PE, which he just adores.
“Also a big thank you to everyone at Panathlon. He knows that because all children at their events have special needs he will never feel left out and can be part of everything. That really means a lot.”
Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, added: “The Jack Petchey Foundation award is a recognition of Oscar’s determination to take what life throws at him full-on. He shows us all what can be done, rather than what can’t.
“His love of sport shines through and shows his school and others the value and power of inclusion. Well done Oscar, you are a role model.”
The Jack Petchey Foundation Outstanding Achievement awards honour Panathlon’s most impressive competitors and leaders from across London and Essex every year.