The Perse School

Charity founder has the ability to inspire students

8 May 2014

Perse Upper students set to fundraise for the charity Power2Inspire received an uplifting lecture about ability from founder John Willis this week.

John’s achievements are impressive. Having been born without hands and feet in the 1960s he was initially sent to a special school where “all I was taught was how to be disabled”. After moving to an independent school he went on to read Law at Trinity Hall, Cambridge before embarking on a successful career as a solicitor.

He credits his success with a determination to teach himself how to do things, and the perseverance to practice till perfect. It was expected that the young John would only be able to eat and draw by wearing a hook, yet he surprised everyone by grasping cutlery and pencils in his paws (as the ends of his arms are called). He entertained students with his story of how, thanks to his determination not to miss out on any of his favourite foods, he developed a novel method to flick ice cream into his mouth. It was more sobering for students to learn that he gained such writing proficiency that aged 10 he was crowned the London winner of a handwriting competition, and now relaxes by creating beautiful sketches.

His life experiences spurred John to set up Power2Inspire, a charity that aims to create opportunities for disabled and non-disabled people to play sports together, challenging their expectations of each other. He hopes to raise £20,000 for the charity and, despite his swimming technique being described as ‘starjumping in water’, determined to fundraise by swimming 1000m in 50 pools. He began in January and will complete his challenge on Monday.

To the students, who will be supporting his effort on Friday by a variety of fundraising activities, he offered a piece of advice to help them through their self-conscious teenage years. As one who “gets stared at more than most”, he advised them to consider that all the time people are gawping at them, they are not looking where they are going, and as a result are apt to come a cropper. The story of his refusal to let others dictate his self-image, and his relentless focus on the positive, was a truly inspiring way to start the day.

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