“If you asked my teacher, I would win the award for going to the photocopier the most. I was always up and down in class – I couldn’t sit still.”
If you met Riley Freeborn, a chatty and witty 15-year-old from Woodlands Community College, you would not believe, that just two years ago, he was lacking confidence and unable to complete basic schoolwork.
This is because he lives with Tourettes Syndrome, which in Riley’s case takes the form of tics, a condition that is defined as repeated, sudden, rapid, nonrhythmic muscle movements. It was something that had a real impact on Riley, as he explains.
“Being diagnosed with Tics really affected my confidence. Back in Year 7, 8 and 9 I never wanted to come in.”
Having to battle something they can’t control can take its toll on an individual. For Riley, that meant disrupting classes and leaving them altogether.
“When I’m trying to supress my Tics and learn at the same time – they don’t go very well,” Riley admits. “But, when Steve started working with me, things changed.
Steve Ketteringham is the Community Champion at Woodlands Community College. He helps young people to fulfil their potential within school through mentoring and support.
In Riley’s case, that saw him helping with his Textiles coursework amongst other things.
Speaking about the Saints Foundation staff member, Riley said: “He keeps me focused. When he helped me, I got on with it [his coursework] and I’m now top of the class. He’s been very kind to me – he’s like a school dad to me.”
Riley has also picked up an award for his textiles work, and is now ready to achieve great things in his GCSEs later on this year, something that seemed so far away not too long ago.
“I feel so much more positive now. My family are proud of me and tell me how far I have come. This has changed my life.”
With the help of Steve, his family, Cantell School’s teachers and Mabel, the school dog that Riley and other students take for walks each day, the possibilities are endless for the teenager.
Riley’s story was recently told at Saints Foundation’s Charity Dinner, where the 15-year-iold took to the stage and told the 400-strong audience how appreciative he was for the help he has had from Saints Foundation and his desire to enter in to a career within sport.
This hit a chord with Southampton FC’s Head of Sports Science and First Team Fitness Coach Alek Gross. After introducing himself to Riley, he invited him and his family down to Staplewood Training Centre for a tour and to help out with first-team training.
Riley got involved from the offset, speaking to first-team manager, Ralph Hasenhuttl.
Growing up with Cerebral Palsy (CP), Chris How found it hard to join a football team where he felt that he belonged.
There is no current cure for CP, you are born with it. Having CP means, that Chris needs assistance when doing physical activity, which meant he has struggled to join in with mainstream football throughout his life.
But, he found a home with Saints Foundation.
Taking up the story, Chris explained: “Cerebral Palsy affects all four of my limbs and it means I need help with physical activity.
“With an impairment like this, people like me need the correct environment to flourish.
“Saints Foundation has allowed me to play football and be part of the team.”
Saints Foundation’s Monday night football session, run by our SaintsAbility coaches, looks to include people with all abilities.
Since joining these sessions, Chris has found his place, creating bonds with other players, staying healthy and enjoying his football.
He added: “It’s a very special thing. The session is able to bring together all of those people with so many disabilities. We all have such a special bond.
“We’re not treated any differently from any other footballer because of our disabilities. This means so much to the people who take part.”
Saints Foundation runs a number of open access sessions for people with disabilities across the region. As well as this, we also run a Pan Disability League, allowing those who can’t access mainstream football a way into competitive matches.
Furthermore, our Regional Talent Hub looks to bring those showing great potential into the fold and get them on the pathway to playing for their national team.