Friday, 24 September 2021

Boy, 13, wins award after finishing seventh in elite open-water swim

A TEENAGE boy with autism won an award after completing an elite open water swim.

A TEENAGE boy with autism won an award after completing an elite open water swim.

Henry Bell, from Peppard Common, was awarded the Sarah Hawkins Trophy after finishing seventh out of 200 participants in the Padstow to Rock Swim in Cornwall.

The 13-year-old, who has Asperger’s syndrome, had to swim one mile across the Camel estuary in less than 30 minutes.

He was the only child to compete in the elite category and was given the award because of his rapid progression after starting in the non-elite cateogry two years ago as well as for raising £2,000 for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Henry’s mother Rebecca, who runs the junior choir at All Saints’ Church in Peppard, said she was very proud of him. “I didn’t expect him to do quite so well and it was all very emotional,” she said. “Part of what he has achieved is all the more remarkable because he has Asperger’s. Children who haven’t got that disability wouldn’t swim across deep water but he wasn’t fazed by it.”

Henry, a former pupil at Peppard Primary School who now attends Lord Williams’s School in Thame, learnt to swim as a baby. He began to take his hobby seriously when he watched Peppard triathlete Nigel Downing in a competition four years ago and the pair swam the event in Cornwall together.

Mrs Bell, a singing teacher at St Andrew’s School in Pangbourne, said: “When Henry first saw him he said, ‘I can do that’ and Nigel said he would train him. We didn’t think it would go as far as it has.”

Henry, a member of Thame Swimming Club, first took part in the Padstow to Rock Swim in 2011, when he finished 12th out of 300 swimmers in the non-elite category in a time of 25 minutes. He finished in the same position in the elite category last year.

Mrs Bell, who waited for him at the finish line this year, said: “He swam particularly well and was very fast.

“You can’t actually see the swimmers until they start to come in. Five or six people came in and then as the next ones came in I could recognise Henry’s style.

“We had a huge contingent there to welcome him. My dad was crying — it was absolutely fantastic.”

Henry also took part in this year’s Henley Classic and Henley Mile events.

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