Inspired by our students' Will(s)

This week I have been inspired by a series of some of the most extraordinary meetings I have ever been privileged to experience with young people and they all go to Park House School!

I chose to theme my start of term assemblies around 64-year old American long-distance swimmer, Diana Nyad.

Diane Nyad

On 2nd September, just before we returned to school, she became the first person to successfully swim the 110 miles that separate the island of Cuba from the west coast of the coast of the United States...

Diane Nyad swim route

By way of comparison, that's further than swimming non-stop from Newbury to Birmingham (which incidentally is 95 miles!)


And she did it without a shark cage to protect her....


And it took its toll....

Diane Nyad

She'd failed on three previous occasions, with her first attempt going back to 1978... But never gave up on her dream.

So I said in the assembly that for me she personified the values of courage and determination that we emphasise at Park House. And that she inspired through her tenacious pursuit of a dream.

Little did I know that I needn't have looked any further than Year 9 for that inspiration.

Because in Year 9's Jasmine Wills we have someone who equally personifies those values. Someone who I was inspired to talk to early this week about what she had just achieved. Something that I only learned about second hand, because she is so modest and unassuming about what she has achieved.

Jasmine has been in competitive swimming since she was nine years old, but Sunday 22nd September presented her biggest challenge yet. She had decided to put her swimming talents to good use and raise money for Mencap, by swimming 5km (3 miles) around four laps of Eton Dorney Lake at a temperature around 10C colder than a regular leisure pool!

What made her decision all the more impressive is that during the previous swimming season, Jasmine had been struggling with a breathing disorder that prevented her from swimming competitively, and even threatened to force her to give up the sport altogether.

However, after several months of treatment by a respiratory physiotherapist at North Hampshire Hospital re-taught her how to breathe, she decided to try Open Water Swimming.

She enjoyed the experience of her first Open Water swim after the treatment so much, that she immediately signed up for the longer, more challenging event at the London 2012 rowing venue. But that first swim had been in the height of the summer, with a lake temperature of 21C and lasted 'only' 1500m (one mile).

Jasmine had never swum as far as 5km competitively before, let alone in a lake that had dropped to a chilly 15-16C. However she was determined to go the distance to claim the hundreds of pounds pledged for her charity.

Jasmine soon discovered that even a wetsuit and two swimming caps provided little protection against the cold conditions, and her exposed head, feet and hands started to go numb.

Jasmine Wills swimming 

By the second lap, her head was so cold it was throbbing. The thought of stopping did cross her mind, but her determination to raise so much money to help other people drove her on.

Finally at the end, she managed to crawl out of the water on her hands and knees, cold and exhausted after 1 hour 17 minutes of amazing effort.  She had finished 11th overall and the 5th female over the line, and had raised at least £500 for MencapJasmine Wills after her swim.

She was then whisked off to the First Aid tent to warm up, as she started to show the first signs of hypothermia! However, within 15 minutes she had recovered to enable her to celebrate her incredible achievement.

Jasmine Wills Mencap

If you want to find out more about jasmine's amazing swim or make a donation to Mencap, you can visit her JustGiving page:

www.justgiving.com/Jazz-Wills >>

My inspirational meeting with Jasmine happened in a week when we also celebrated our first World champion at Park House.

On Friday 20th September Year 8's Ellie Gudgeon became World Under-14 Karate Gold Medallist, following her individual triumph with a Bronze Medal in the Team Event two days later.

Ellie Gudgeon Under 13 Karate World Champion

I had the privilege of chatting to Ellie on her return to school with her medals.  She may be diminutive in stature, but is clearly a giant when it comes to courage, determination - and of course, incredible talent.  The Irish girl she defeated in the final was absolutely huge by comparison! What an inspiration!

You can track Ellie's amazing progress through recent editions of 'Personal Best', with the first feature on her when she was still in Year 6 and looking forward to coming to Park House appearing on page 51 of Issue 25 >>

The final series of meetings which have so inspired me this week have been those held with the  students who spoke so powerfully and passionately at Open Evening about their Park House journeys: Harry Ashton, Keira Jones and Reuben Langdon from Year 7, Sophie Bunce and Austin Jones from Year 11 and our Head Girl and Boy from Year 13, Rachael Green and Elliot Laker.

I could never have imagined myself speaking to audiences of 300 or more at their age, let alone with such eloquence and impact.  They were absolutely superb ambassadors for a student body, whose fantastic spirit and passion was embodied in the hundreds of others who freely gave up their time to act as tour guides or to help in subject departments during our packed Open Evening last Thursday. 'Team Park House' at its very best.

A week to be inspired very special Wills of Park House students.