Experience of a lifetime

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While on holiday last August I received a very interesting email from one of the Managers at Tadcaster Community Swimming Pool to inform me that a producer working at CNN wanted to get in contact with me, writes Wetherby News columnist Jemima Browning.

I was in complete shock. When I returned to the UK I had a phone call with Christie O’Reilly, CNN producer.

CNN run a program every year called CNN Heroes. This program celebrates 10 adults who are doing extraordinary things to change the World. As part of this they also award young people, Young Wonders, for their world changing work. This year they awarded three young people from the United States and one person from the rest of the world.

Astonishingly, I was the young person from the rest of the World. This was such an incredible honour. I really could not believe that they would select me for such a prestigious award.

I was awarded for the work I have done to help close the gap in opportunities for people with disabilities and change the perception of those in the mainstream world. It felt like an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the Stingrays swimmer.

On December 11 CNN flew out a camera crew and the producer of my story, Meghan Dunn. We had several days of filming ahead of us. Meghan wanted to capture all aspect of my work. They filmed a Stingrays session, a Stingrays gala, many interviews and the Unified Rocks project.

All of this footage was put together into two different videos, one longer and one shorter. The filming was a very exciting experience. The CNN team was fabulous. The amount of people involved and who showed their support was amazing. It was great to see all the people willing to help and give up their time to support Stingrays and other projects I run.

Truly the most amazing part of the whole award experience was flying out to New York City.

My mum and I flew out on December 6 to JFK airport. It was late so we headed straight to the hotel, the JW Marriott Essex House New York. The hotel looked out onto Central Park; it was fabulous. On the sixth a TV show aired across the USA showing the work of the four Young Wonders. The show was remarkable. I was honoured to meet the other three award winners and learn about their work to improve the lives of others.

We had a free day on the Saturday and Sunday morning, we tried to cram as much of New York into that time. We went ice skating in Central Park first thing, something I have always wanted to do. It was stunning. Later on, we went to the Christmas Market near Central Park and then walked through Central Park. In the evening we walked over to the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, it was breath-taking. We also went to the light filled Times Square. It was the perfect day. On Sunday morning we went to Macy’s, the largest department store in the world.

The Sunday evening was the award ceremony. It was held at the Natural History Museum New York. It was a live all-star tribute broadcasted the whole of America. It honoured all the 10 Heroes and the four Young Wonders. All the awards were presented by celebrities like, Cathy Bates, Storm Reid, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale and Caleb Mclaughlin. The hosts were Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa. I was presented my award live on TV. It was an unforgettable experience. The show was incredibly moving and inspiring. It gave me and all who watched hope for the future.

I will be forever incredibly thankful for the experience.