To celebrate International Day for People With Disabilities, we caught up with Alfie from Doucecroft Specialist Autism School in Colchester who has thrived as an athlete and leader through Panathlon events despite the adversity of the pandemic. 

Due to his autism, Alfie has felt extremely anxious and upset about the disruption Covid-19 has caused to school life. The change to routine and format of lessons often caused him great anguish and discomfort. 

Before the pandemic, Alfie loved competing in Panathlon’s external competitions such as a boccia competition in Chelmsford and the Essex swimming gala at the London 2012 Aquatics Centre. His favourites are ten-pin bowling, multi-sports and football and he also enjoys dodgeball and basketball. 

The start of the coronavirus lockdowns meant Alfie was prevented from enjoying sport in the way he was used to. However, he has bravely thrown himself into numerous leadership roles at Doucecroft and has seized every opportunity Panathlon was able to offer within the Covid restrictions. They have enabled him to show his best qualities, developed his social skills and reduced his anxiety.

Panathlon’s Virtual Programme gave Alfie the chance to lead his younger peers in school and undertake work experience alongside Panathlon Event Manager Howard Nicholls when he visited the school to lead a competition. 

He helped Howard with setting up the equipment then guided younger pupils with the activities and learned how to officiate and keep score. 

During the lockdowns, Alfie was filmed performing demonstrations of Panathlon’s virtual activities so clips could be sent to pupils who were having to isolate at home. The videos enabled them to take part in Panathlon in their own houses and gardens, keeping them active and reducing their sense of isolation. 

“Although Alfie has struggled with the change in circumstances with Panathlons taking place in school instead of externally, we are very proud of the way he has adapted and taken time to help others participate,” said Doucecroft School PE coordinator Andrea Griffiths. 

When Alfie took his Sports Leader qualification and had to deliver sporting activity to a group of Key Stage 2 children, he chose Panathlon’s multisport disciplines for his sessions. “He could have chosen any sport, but he chose Panathlon because he knew that would get the most out of the students,” said Andrea. 

“He really cares about their feelings and giving them the best experience. They gave him really good feedback afterwards. A lot of our younger students really look up to him.” 

Alfie is a keen runner, and is part of Orwell Panthers Athletics Club for disabled athletes and Ipswich Harriers. Each day, he times his morning run so he can be back in time to support younger pupils on the school’s Daily Mile. He has also done work experience in a charity shop in nearby Manningtree and has raised money for charities. “The staff absolutely loved him and they can’t wait to have him back,” said Andrea. 

Alfie said: “I like being given the responsibility. When you help it feels a little bit special. The younger ones need more support than the older ones so I enjoy stepping in and helping them. 

“I just love to be involved in Panathlon as a helper or an athlete. I love to compete against different schools and see how well we’re doing. If Panathlon was ever taken away it would make me extremely sad.” 

On International Day for Disabled People, Alfie took part in a school Olympics where each class represented a country and took part in sporting competition. 

Andrea added: “Alfie is amazing. He has got a heart of gold and if anyone is struggling, he will be the first one there to help and support them. He will take them to the side, sit with them and spend time telling them they can do it. If you want anything done, he is who you turn to.” 

Andrea’s colleague at Doucecroft, Lindsay Hawford, added: “Alfie has lots and lots of positive things going for him. He is an energetic and talented athlete and has got really good ideas for raising money for charity. Although Covid has been a real challenge for him, we’re getting him back on track and sport and leadership roles with Panathlon will definitely help a lot.”