Mr Potts Assembly - 4th May

As you know, I love sport and it’s often tempting to take inspiration from sport when writing assemblies. Looking back over the years, there are so many sporting events that are seared into my memory and continue to provide me with inspiration.

All of these sporting memories involve athletes overcoming adversity, showing resilience and working hard to achieve their goals. But the event that I was reminded of last week didn’t involve someone achieving their goals and focused instead on someone who was forced to make a snap decision about how to respond to unexpected and absolutely crushing disappointment.

Back in the summer of 1992 I was around the same age as our Year 11 students are now and, having finished my GCSEs a few months earlier, I spent a chunk my time immersing myself in the BBC’s coverage of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. One of Great Britain’s medal hopes in the those games was a 400 metre runner called Derek Redmond. Now Derek was an incredibly gifted athlete but his career had been plagued with injuries and, after working incredibly hard, Barcelona probably represented the last chance to win an Olympic medal.

Lining up for the 400 metre semi-final, Derek would’ve been full of hope that his hard work and resilience would finally pay off, having been the fastest qualifier in the opening round. He started the race well again but then the unthinkable happened: half way around the back straight he tore his hamstring. In that moment, his medal hopes were over and his career as a world class athlete were also pretty much over. However, as the other athletes crossed the finish line something remarkable happened: the camera panned back and there was Derek, on his feet and desperate to finish the race.

The Olympic officials tried to usher him from the track, someone even sent for a stretcher but Derek was determined to finish the race that he’d worked so hard to get to. Slowly and painfully he hobbled around the track before something even more incredible happened: Derek’s dad appeared, fought his way past the officials, took his son by the arm and together they made it over the finish line.

I can imagine that some of you will understand the emotions Derek Redmond must’ve experienced, having worked so hard to prepare himself for biggest race of his life but – through circumstances beyond his control – never getting the chance prove what he knew he was capable of. I know just how disappointed our GCSE and A Level students are, having invested blood, sweat and tears into preparing for exams, only to have the goalposts moved because of circumstances beyond their control. But – like Derek Redmond – I’ve been incredibly impressed by the way so many of you have continued to study and have been determined to finish the race on your own terms.

The Olympic record books actually recorded Derek’s run as ‘DNF’ – Did Not Finish – because he was helped across the line by his father but his actions will be remembered long after memories of the eventual winner have faded. And there’ll be a legacy for those of you who keep running your own race too. Learning is a life skill that extends far beyond the grades that you’re assigned on a test, and your determination to continue to learn – even in the absence of formal exams this summer – speaks volumes about your resilience and ambition.

I trust all of you will still achieve the grades you deserve when the results are announced in August but I have even more faith that the good habits you are developing now will serve you well for the rest of your lives.

Good luck, stay safe and I will see you all soon.

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