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Surprised at Quilters Junior School Paralympic Week

I was delighted to return to Quilters Junior School, Billericay, on the 11th- 15th September to host our Sixth Paralympic Week. It has become such a tradition that younger siblings entering Year 3 are already super excited from all they have heard from their older brothers and sisters. They cannot wait for their turn – this fills me with pride!

The format has been honed over the years and we’ve now mastered it.

We start the week with an assembly where I explain how I have overcome the obstacles placed in my way during my life, and how they too can overcome their challenges, if they ‘Never Give Up’ and learn to face them with the mantra, “I can’t do it…..yet!” and adopt the philosophy that “Practice makes Progress”. These have developed into my straplines, and its excellent to hear children chant them back to me.

Year 6, as the veterans of the games, play first. We host one class at a time in the morning and a competition in the afternoon between the classes. We play new age kurling, goalball, sitting volleyball and sitting netball and each game has their champions. The competition awards more points for all the Quilters’ values – kindness, respect, resilience, teamwork, perseverance – than for winning the individual matches.

Year 5 followed on the Tuesday, Year 3 with help from Y5 leaders on the Thursday and Year 4 with help from Y5 and 6 on the Friday. The competition is fierce but inclusive. It is remarkable how often a crucial game of kurling is won by a “non-sporty” small child, how the good behaviour of unlikely suspects can swing the result. It is a triumph for inclusive sport.

I was challenged by Mr Wade, the head teacher, to a tennis match, but as he was absent, he invited Mr Holmes to deputise for him. Unwittingly I wrecked some devilish plans by insisting this be on the Tuesday afternoon. This allowed me to do an assembly on the Thursday about my recent 108 Challenge – the 108 mile paddle down the river Thames and the nomination I had received and aired on ITV Anglia for the region’s Fundraiser of the Year. It also allowed me to invite Rosie Williams, Power2Inspire ambassador and alumna of Quilters, to attend on the Friday. She recounted her story of her determination to be a gymnast and how she became the British U12 Disabled Gymnastics Champion, in part from her exposure to Paralympic Week.

Back to the tennis: Mr Holmes just defeated me in a closely fought ‘championship’ point!

Mr Wade regrouped, after my meddling with his plans, and requested I play again on the Friday “to film it for Quilters TV” and Mr Berack was recruited for the purposes because he had been saying how good he was at tennis – an exaggeration from Mr Wade.

It was all a ruse. I was just starting to play when I was surprised – it was a complete shock! – by Sophie Wiggins of ITV Anglia, who presented me with the Fundraiser of the Year Award. Please do watch the video (linked below) which captures the surprise. I was doubly shocked as my family had sneaked on to the playground too and I hadn’t seen them. A wonderful surprise!

You can watch the moment John Willis is surprised as the winner of Pride of Britain fundraiser of the year for the Anglia region, and read about John on the ITV website, by clicking the image.

And this all happened during Quilters’ Paralympic Week! What a fabulous event!

It was a marvellous week, capped by a lovely award. I couldn’t think of a better place to receive it, especially as the Quilters students were quite so excited. The only cloud was the absence of Mr Wade, but the teachers coped admirably without him, and the students are outstanding examples of what can be achieved, with the right dedication from a fabulous teaching staff.

Thank you, Quilters, and I am already looking forward to the Seventh Paralympic Week!

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John Willis

Founder & Chief Ambassador, Power2Inspire