Jessica Fenton’s determination to participate in Panathlon on her own through the depths of the pandemic has earned her an Outstanding Achievement award.
The 14-year-old from Hartlepool has bronchiectasis, a chronic lung condition, which meant she was clinically extremely vulnerable and was forced to shield from March-August 2020 and then again from November.
She desperately missed her friends, her extra-curricular football and swimming clubs and the Panathlon events she had attended regularly while at Whitehouse Primary School and at her high school, Catcote Academy.
But the resilience, perseverance and self-motivation she showed to throw herself every day into Panathlon’s at-home challenges marked her out as a worthy winner of our Tees Valley Outstanding Achievement prize.
Jessica was handed the trophy by her mum Julie on a special Zoom call with Panathlon Ambassador and multi-parasport international Freya Levy.
“I was sad that I couldn’t go in but happy that I could do sport in the garden,” said Jessica. “I did the Panathlon games every day as soon as I woke up. It was wonderful and kept me busy.”
Mum Julie said: “We watched Panathlon’s instruction videos and set up the courses in the back garden. Jess is really competitive and loved trying to beat her best scores and times. She kept saying, ‘Do it again! Do it again!’
“Jess had a lot of tearful moments during shielding and it was hard to see her so desperate to see her friends and family and to return to school and sports clubs. She is a very sociable girl and loves to be busy so the pandemic had a huge impact on her life. She would ask and ask, ‘When will the germs be gone?’”
“However, she developed a resilience that I am very proud of and we just made the best of everything. She never gives up, she is very determined and having the Panathlon videos to watch helped connect her to other people outside of the family. Completing the challenges and sending off her videos and pictures gave her a sense of purpose and made her feel like she was taking part just like children in schools.
“Having the printed instructions and the sheet to fill in with her times were really good. It gave her a bit of reading and maths practice without her even realising it! She loved being outside doing the activities and it definitely helped with the home schooling too.”
Jessica has Down’s syndrome as well as her lung condition, which gives her recurring chest infections that need physio and daily medicines. Sport and exercise are very significant in keeping her in good health by clearing her lungs.
Jessica returned to school in the summer term in a small bubble of six children and three staff.
Her teacher Vicky Gray said: “Jessica has grown in confidence and independence and I think the fact she knows she does well at something has certainly increased her self-belief.
“In turn she now enjoys any responsibility at school and has certainly improved her participation in whole-school activities. Jessica has set an amazing example to others, keeping fit and healthy. We are so proud of her!”
Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer Tony Waymouth commented: “It’s fabulous to see Jessica still so enthusiastic about Panathlon having excelled in so many of our activities whilst at primary school.
“It is particularly pleasing to hear how our at-home challenges supported her during a very tough lockdown period, with the benefits going beyond the merely physical – helping her with handwriting and maths too.”