BY NEWS REPORTER
A teenager has won an award to record her bravery and success after fighting back from cancer to reach sporting heights.
Abby-Jo Wawrzewski, 16, from Crofton Park in Lewisham lifted the Panathlon’s 2017 Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Award – the charity’s top individual honour at a ceremony on Wednesday.
Abby-Jo, a pupil at Brent Knoll School in Perry Rise, Forest Hill has overcome stage 3 non-Hodgkin
lymphoma and months of chemotherapy.
She is now a regular competitor in events run by Panathlon, the charity that every year gives more than 13,000 children with disabilities and special needs the chance to take part in competitive sport.
She particularly excels at boccia after learning rules and tactics from YouTube while she was ill. The teenager received her prize from Panathlon Ambassador and Paralympic gold medallist swimmer Liz Johnson, who was assisted by Jack Gair, the returning 2015 Panathlon Young Leader of the Year.
Abby-Jo was chosen from a list of 17 individuals for the honour. Jessica Howard from Oak Lodge School in Wandsworth received a Highly Commended prizes. Abby-Jo’s treatment has made her asthmatic and left her with painful warts on her hands and feet. She also has hypermobility problems and mild autism, but none of that prevents her giving her all once the whistle blows.
In June, she was part of the Lewisham team to claim gold in the London Multisport Finals Plate at the Copper Box Arena. She also captains her school’s boccia team. Initially, after her chemotherapy three years ago, she relapsed and the disease spread to her bones. She went on a rare trial, had a transplant and has now been in remission for more than two years.
She said: “It’s really amazing to win. sport and Panathlon competitions helped me to rebuild my strength after my illness.
“I knew my limits, though, and I’m still getting stronger now.”
Abby-Jo’s father, Robert, said: “Every year she brings out new challenges for herself and achieves them every single time. She has achieved a lot, but we take it at her pace. “She loves all sports – it’s a case of me and her mum holding her back.”
Naomi Vann, Abby-Jo’s PE teacher at Brent Knoll School, said: “Sport’s really important to Abby-Jo, so having that in her head at the time helped her get through everything.
“When it comes to sports, she knows what she can and can’t do. She is an absolute treasure. We’re so proud of her.”
After presenting the awards, Liz Johnson, the Paralympic gold medallist swimmer, said: “Panathlon mirrors the experience of the Paralympic Games by creating that multisport environment where competition is key while experience new team-mates, venues and challenges.”
The awards sponsor, the Jack Petchey Foundation, has supported Panathlon’s work in providing sporting opportunities for disabled young people in London and Essex for 13 years.
In March this year they handed over a cheque for £106,300, bringing its total investment in the charity to £700,000.