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Paralympian phenomenon: The story of Nathan Stephens

To look at the story of Nathan Stephens and to encourage students to appreciate how persistence and determination can turn a disaster into personal triumph (SEAL theme: Motivation).

by Laurence Chilcott

Suitable for Key Stage 2


To look at the story of Nathan Stephens and to encourage students to appreciate how persistence and determination can turn a disaster into personal triumph (SEAL theme 3: Going for goals).

Preparation and materials



  1. Tell the students that you are holding something of value in your hand and ask them to guess what it is. After a short time reveal the pearl.

    For centuries, pearls have been used to adorn brooches and necklaces. Queen Elizabeth I was very fond of pearls and she is seen wearing them in some of her portraits. Today pearl necklaces, earrings and rings can still be bought and the best quality pearls are worth many hundreds of pounds.
  2. Pearls occur naturally in molluscs, but it is only pearl oysters that produce pearls of value.

    Oysters lie on the seabed and filter feed on plankton. Sometimes a tiny piece of shell or bone gets into the oyster and its sharp edges irritate and annoy it. It tries to get rid of the irritation by expelling it but fails.

    What can it do now?

    Perhaps give up trying to do anything and slowly die?

    Say, ‘Why me?’ and spend all its time complaining and moaning about how hard life is for oysters?

    No, it slowly does something about it: it produces nacre, a substance known as mother-of- pearl, which covers over the irritating material. Over the years layer after layer of nacre is built up to produce a pearl.

    The sharp irritating edges are now smooth and rounded – out of trouble and irritation has come something of great value and beauty.

  3. Sometimes we face situations that worry and upset us, and just like the oyster we have a choice. We can complain and moan, and say it’s not fair . . . or we can do something about it.
  4. In 1997 Nathan Stephens faced a disaster that would change his life for ever. It was his ninth birthday; he was playing with his brother and a cousin near the railway line just outside his home village of Kenfig Hill in South Wales. No doubt he had been warned many times about the dangers of playing by the railway line, but when he saw a slow moving freight train approaching he thought it would be fun to jump aboard the last carriage.

    It was the last jump he was ever to make; he slipped on the loose gravel and his legs went under the wheels. The train carried on down the track as the driver was unaware of what had happened. His brother ran to get help while his cousin stayed with him. He was rushed to hospital by air ambulance where it was found that his left leg had been sheared off at the hip and surgeons had to amputate his right leg below the knee.
  5. Nathan had always been an active boy and loved climbing trees and playing football. His parents, teachers and friends wondered how this tragedy would affect him. He could have given up all his hopes of being involved in sport, blamed others for what had happened and complained that life was unfair. But he didn’t – he was determined that his disability was not going to stop him from making the most of his life.

    He was back in school – in a wheelchair – far quicker than anyone would have thought, feeling lucky that he was alive. Soon he was playing football – in goal! And cricket – as wicket keeper! He became interested in sledge hockey and very soon his potential as an athlete was recognized.

    He continued to develop his skills when he went to his local comprehensive school. He became a world junior champion at the shot, javelin and discus. He worked hard at his studies too and became head boy at the school. He participated in the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, and became senior men’s javelin champion at the IPC World Athletics Championships in New Zealand in January 2011, where he set a new world record.

    Nathan is now 23, and studying for a degree in Sports Coaching. He has deferred his final year at university for 24 months to focus on the 2012 Games and is setting his sights on gold in the javelin.
  6. Nathan’s mother says, ‘He lost something, but he gained something even greater.’ She is convinced that Nathan has become a more fulfilled person as a result of the tragedy, with a focus and determination that have made him someone really special.

Time for reflection

Discuss strategies for coping with problems:

–  seeking advice or ‘talking it over’ with a trusted adult or friend;
–  looking for the positive and ‘counting our blessings’;
–  facing problems, not running away from them;
–  asking: ‘What can I do?’ rather than ‘Why did it happen?’

Discuss the fact that we all meet problems and difficulties in life and when we look back they are usually not quite as bad as we had thought they’d be.

Discuss local people or past/present pupils who have overcome difficulties.

Help us, O Lord, to remember the lesson of the oyster.
Sometimes we get annoyed or upset by things that happen to us.
May we not spend our time complaining
or feeling it’s not fair
but let us try to do something to make it better.
Help us to remember that you have promised to be with us in times of trouble
and we ask that you will help us to choose the right path.


‘He who would valiant be’ (Come and Praise, 44)

Publication date: April 2012   (Vol.14 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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