John, the founder and CEO of Power2Inspire, has been passionate about sport his whole life. Seven years after setting up Power2Inspire, he shared with us some of his sporting memories, lessons learned, and hopes for the future.

Anna Willis: Tell us about your earliest memories of sport?

John Willis: The first sport I remember watching is my parents playing hockey on Sunday mornings. They played in a mixed team called the Chameleons and they would drag my sister and I to watch them play each weekend.

What was your first Power2Inspire event?

A friend of mine, Tim Martin, had been pestering me for many years to do an able-body triathlon relay together, and in 2013, we finally did one! It was at Eton Dorney, and I did the 1500 metre open water swim. We did really well, far better than our target of not coming last. That was primarily down to Henry Brown, who did the 10,000 metre run in 36 minutes, which is really fast. But what I thought about it all was that we had more fun than any other team, as we showed that you really can have fun with different abilities in your team.

What have been the most exciting moments of Power2Inspire so far?

Doing our first University PowerHouse Games, where we brought together school kids from independent state and special needs schools with the Cambridge University Rugby Club and corporate volunteers, was not only really fun but broke down lots of barriers. Everyone made the disabled students from Castle Special school really welcome; the men and women rugby players broke down gender barriers between each other; and the state and independent school pupils got along really well too. It was a tremendous achievement: I smile every time I think back to it.

Tell us about some of the difficult moments?

At the second University PowerHouse Games, one of the pupils had both visual impairments and was mostly deaf, which added extra challenges to the games we’d prepared! But it was a great opportunity to adapt and develop activities to keep them inclusive. We found a ball with a bell she could hear, and everyone involved helped fantastically. So it just goes to show that if you can be adaptable, flexible, and accommodating, you can include anyone.

What lessons have you learned from seven years of Power2Inspire?

I’m continually inspired every time I go into a school, by the young people, their imaginations, their determination, their kindness, their enthusiasm. Their desire to have fun is truly inspirational. And I just find that inspires me to want to do more to actually help them. Just have fun, and at the same time, they learn all sorts of things. That is a fabulous lesson to learn.

How has Power2Inspire changed you?

It’s remarkably given me confidence. I didn’t believe that people wanted to hear my story. Now I believe that they do, and that I can inspire people. I went to a special needs school down near Tottenham Hotspur football ground, and to do one of my swims as part of the challenge. A profoundly disabled boy came up to me and the head teacher afterwards, and he said, and it took him a long time because of his speech impediment and his learning difficulties, he said that he’d never had the confidence to go in the deep end of the swimming pool, until he had seen me swimming in the deep end earlier that day. And he then grinned from ear to ear, because he realised that he could swim. That moment was unbelievably emotionally powerful for me: if I can do that for one other person in my life that is a fantastic thing. I challenge everybody to find something that they can inspire somebody else to just do a little bit more. And that’s what Power2Inspire is all about: that everybody has the power to inspire.

What’s the future for Inclusive Sport?

Controversially, I want to see inclusive sport disappear! I want inclusion to just be a given, for it to be natural for people to do sport together. I want it to be normal for a grandmother and her grandchild to do sport together, for a Jew and a Sikh to do sport together, for men and women, able-bodied and disabled people all to do sport together, and for it to be normal. And that’s our ultimate goal here at Power2Inspire.

Inspired? Then Get Involved!

If you would like to help John to continue inspiring thousands of people in his passion for inclusive sport then we would love to hear from you. We are always looking out for people willing to fundraise for Power2Inspire through their own inspiring means. You could volunteer at one of our events, or you could give to the ongoing work of Power2Inspire.

Click the button here to find out more.

Anna Willis

Freelance journalist and story teller; on Twitter @annawillis101