TWYNHAM School student Will Sears has won the first-ever Rotary Young Citizen Sporting Hero Award 2020 after he was nominated by Christchurch Rotary Club.
The 14-year-old has challenged the status quo and taken part in sailing championships across the world despite his disability, competing in the same class as athletes without his medical condition.
Will has been a keen sailor since the age of 10 but last April, he suffered a haemorrhagic stroke. He was diagnosed with cavernous malformations in his brain, and as a result, now has epilepsy.
Before his stroke, he had a place to sail on the national and international circuit but was left devastated after medical professionals told him his sailing days were over.
Determined not to let his disability define him, he was resolute in taking his place at both the RS Tera National Championships in Essex and World Championships in Sweden.
Will’s mother Cherie said that was no easy task: “There’s no sailing for young people with epilepsy or brain injuries generally, and there certainly isn’t competitive sailing. Will first had to convince the National Sailing Committee he was able and safe before tackling the world organisation.”
With the help of his Roald Dahl specialist epilepsy nurse and his sailing club, the national committee agreed to allow him to compete under strict conditions. There was no dispensation for disability in the championships, so Will went and sailed as an equal with his peers.
The nationals proved challenging. Will suffered a seizure on the water and was medically retired for one of the two days. Determined, he went back out on the water, achieving fifth place in the regatta fleet.
The RS National Association awarded him the Class Trophy for his endeavour and determination.
At the world championships, Will was allowed to compete at the last minute after negotiations between the International Association, the UK sailing and medical team. And when he arrived he had been selected as the UK Squad flag bearer, and he proudly paraded at the opening event.
Again, there was no recognition for disability in junior competitive sailing, and therefore Will had no dispensation or handicap. He started well, but on the second race of day two, he had a seizure and was medically retired for the rest of that day and the following day.
He returned to the water on the final day and managed some impressive sailing, bringing his final score up to 44th in the world.
Will’s determination did not stop there. He returned to Sea Scouts to sail and to teach youngsters as an assistant coach. He has also raised funds for Roald Dahl Marvellous Children’s Charity.
Will said: “I’ve won the Rotary Young Citizen Sporting Hero Award and I’m the first person to win it, which makes me feel extremely happy. I’d like to thank Twynham School and Christchurch Rotary for nominating me, and well done to all the other Rotary Young Citizen Award winners and the other nominees.
“I’m really happy that I’ve won this award and everything it’s given to me.”
Will added: “I challenge the norm because I want other people with brain injuries and epilepsy to be able to take part in sailing and not to feel left out.”
He will receive a trophy, certificate and £300 to go towards his chosen project or charity from Rotary in Britain and Ireland.
The Rotary Young Citizen Awards presentation had been due to take place at the UK’s first-ever Volunteer Expo at the NEC in Birmingham this month but the event was postponed until May 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rotary in Britain and Ireland President Donna Wallbank said: “Will is a teenager who shows that with determination and effort anything and everything is possible and it is a tribute to those who have undertaken this journey with Will that he continues to compete as an equal despite his disability.
“Will, as the first winner of the Rotary Young Citizen Sporting Hero Award, is a testimony to what this award is about.”