Thirteen-year-old Will Sears is a remarkable teenager who 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.
And Will, who was nominated by Christchurch Rotary in Dorset, is the first winner of the new Rotary Young Citizen Sporting Hero Award.
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, two of which had haemorrhaged and as the result of the damage, now has epilepsy.
Suddenly his world was turned upside down.
Before his stroke, Bournemouth-based Will was sailing every week, nationally and internationally. He was devastated to be told by medical professionals that his sailing was over.
Determined not to let his disability define him, Will was resolute in taking his place at both the National Championships in Essex and World Championships in Sweden. No easy task!
First, he had to convince the National Sailing Committee that he was able and safe before tackling the world organisation.
With the help of his Roald Dahl nurse and his sailing club, the national committee agreed to allow him to compete under strict conditions. There isn’t any dispensation for disability in the championships, so Will sailed as an equal with his peers.
The national championships weren’t without difficulty. Will suffered a seizure on the water and was medically retired for one of the two days. Determined as ever, he went back out on the water, achieving fifth place in the regatta fleet. The RS National Association awarded Will the Class Trophy for his endeavour and determination.
As for the World Championships in Sweden, Will’s participation was only agreed at the last minute after some high level negotiations between the International Association and the UK sailing and medical team.
When he arrived however, Will was surprised to have been selected to be the UK squad flag bearer paraded at the opening event.
Again, there is no recognition for disability in junior competitive sailing.
Will started well but had a seizure on the second day and was medically retired.
Determined not to let his disability win, the Dorset youngster returned to the water on the final day and managed some epic sailing, bringing his final score back up to 44th in the world.
Will has been able to continue to enjoy his sailing and has now returned to Sea Scouts, even teaching young Scouts to sail as an Assistant Coach.
Will has become a role-model helping others in his school and beyond.
By his example, and by the precedents he has set, he has opened the doors for many other young people suffering from epilepsy and similar conditions.