Two award-winning Panathlon competitors returned to guide the next generation of athletes at UEL Sportsdock on Wednesday at our Xtend East London Finals.
Jordan Andrews and Georgie Hart were part of the team of Young Leaders instructing over 100 Key Stage 3 pupils from nine schools as Panathlon made its return to the spectacular Thames-side university setting for the first time in exactly two years.
Both Jordan and Georgie have been part of the Panathlon family for the best part of a decade and are former winners in our illustrious Jack Petchey Foundation Outstanding Achievement awards.
Jordan, 21, is now a student at the University of East London studying Sport, PE and Development. Back in 2012, he was part of a team of Panathletes from Newham who were the first disabled athletes to step on to the Olympic and Paralympic Stadium track as part of an official London 2012 test event (pictured below). A decade on, he is still benefiting from the Olympic and Paralympic legacy by studying and practising at UEL Sportsdock, which was the training base for Team USA in 2012. (Read more on Panathlon and the 2012 legacy here).
As a teenager, Jordan won our Hamza Hussain Sporting Achievement award in 2012. He also holds the all-time record for the longest standing long jump in Panathlon history – 2.84m, set in 2013.
Jordan, who has autism, was overjoyed to re-connect with his Panathlon roots this week (March 15) at the UEL venue where he studies full-time.
“It’s a great honour to come back to lead Panathlon Challenge events,” he said. “It reminds me of being in that moment competing against other boroughs back when I was at Langdon Secondary School. It gives me massive pride.”
Having competed for Essex Beagles Athletics Club, Jordan now competes in the BUCS University Games in the 60m, 100m and long jump. He has won medals of all colours. After finishing his degree, he wants to be a sports coach.
“I can’t believe how far I’ve come from 10 years ago and how many Panathlon medals I have won for the Borough of Newham over those years. I’m loving university now. I’m putting in the work and believe in myself.”
Working alongside Jordan at the event was another 21-year-old Panathlon ‘veteran’, Georgie Hart, who won our Jack Petchey Foundation Outstanding Achievement award in 2015. That year, she was selected to read the ‘Panathlon Oath’ before our prestigious London Final at the Copper Box Arena.
Georgie has cerebral palsy which affects her speech and balance, but she overcame fear to make her speech and represent Jo Richardson School and Barking & Dagenham in our inclusive sporting events for the following four years.
“Reading the Oath was the moment she found her voice – and she hasn’t stopped talking since!” said Georgie’s mum Sue, who came along to this week’s East London Final.
“Before she started doing Panathlon she had no confidence at all and wouldn’t put herself out there. Then she started bringing medals home. It made her feel good. Understanding that she could achieve things was the turning point. Panathlon gave her that push.”
Georgie’s list of accomplishments since then is vast. She has started an anti-bullying campaign, writes and delivers her own stand-up comedy routines, works at the Progress Project with disabled children, competes in club throwing (a former Paralympic discipline), plays disability cricket, takes part in a cycling club, and is part of the SLAMbition performing arts group for deaf, disabled or neurodivergent performers. Georgie also made a speech in front of 5,000 people at the AGM of our long-term sponsors St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation at the 02 Arena, extolling the virtues of Panathlon.
When you’re disabled and have speech and balance problems, education can only get you so far,” said Sue. “What drives kids like Georgie is confidence. That’s what Panathlon has given her. It is a level playing field. It makes you feel like you’re not the only one with a disability and opens your eyes to what is possible, when the world is telling you everything is impossible.”
Georgie said: “Now I have left college, I would love to work with disabled children because I love to see kids’ confidence grow. I know that’s what Panathlon did for me.
“It means the world to me to wear this pink Young Leader’s t-shirt. I always looked up to the Young Leaders when I competed in Panathlon, so to be a role model for these young people today is a real privilege.”
Watching the competition and the Young Leaders’ guidance of the competitors were UEL Senior Lecturers in Sport, PE and Development, Nadia Grubnic and Maria Antritsou.
“This event has become something of a tradition for us and we’re delighted to see Panathlon return after the awful pandemic period,” said Nadia. “On our courses we teach a lot of inclusion in sport, so this is a brilliant experience for our students to put that theory into practice with a demographic of young people they may never have encountered before.
“The great thing about Panathlon is its simplicity. These activities will teach our students so much about planning and delivering inclusive lessons and sessions, use of equipment, adapting to different numbers of children and communication skills.”
Maria, whose academic background is in adapted physical activity and inclusion, said: “For young people with disabilities who are in mainstream education, Panathlon is a very good experience because these activities have been specifically created for them.
“Young people can come into the Panathlon environment and feel they are a valued member of a community, because their needs are understood and met and the activities are accessible.”
Paul Davies, Head of Partnerships at our sponsors Jack Petchey Foundation, was on hand to award medals, trophies and certificates. His daughter is a previous Panathlon competitor, but this was his first experience of attending a competition himself.
“Giving these young people the opportunity to be the best they can be is really important,” said Paul. “Hopefully some of them will discover sports they really like and go on to join clubs, go to the London Youth Games, Special Olympics or Paralympics. Today could light that spark and confidence within them.”