Shane Gunesh, winner of our 2016 Jack Petchey Foundation Young Leader of the Year award, has been shortlisted for the prestigious Michael Johnson Young Leaders programme in the USA.

The programme, run by the four-time Olympic gold medallist sprinter, attracts 18-23 year old applicants from around the world who are volunteers in sport, education and community leadership.

Shane, 18, from Enfield in north London, has learning difficulties and is recognised as being on the autism spectrum.

He is a young leader at Panathlon boccia events, and volunteers at his local club to help other teenagers with different disabilities play boccia. He is a gold medal winner in the BC8 category at the national boccia championships, as well as a qualified coach and referee.

He is also a young ambassador for the National Autistic Society and recipient of MENCAP’s Gateway Award for volunteering. He also enjoys dance, acting and ceramics and has played for the Middlesex County Disability cricket team.

It was Shane’s engagement in Panathlon competitions that kickstarted his passion for volunteering and helping others. After transferring from a mainstream school to West Lea School in Enfield when he was 14, he undertook Panathlon leaders training and supervised and officiated at events for two years.

He turned from a shy, inhibited boy into a confident young man, despite the social and learning barriers that his disability presents him with on a daily basis.

He was put forward for the Enfield Leadership Academy, where he achieved the Boccia Young Officials Award, then officiated at the London Lord’s Taverners Disability Boccia tournament run by Panathlon.

“My teacher told me I was a good leader,” he says. “I just like to volunteer for young people.”

Over the next few years, Panathlon will be working with Shane to further enhance his leadership skills at our events. As a young leader and ambassador, he will be an integral part of the development of our autism programme.

“It has been such a positive experience for Shane being involved in Panathlon,” said his mother Sunita.“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Panathlon for supporting Shane throughout this process.”