Sean Glendinning is no ordinary 16-year-old. He has already accomplished a list of achievements longer than most adults.
At age 12, he swam the Channel in a relay, and at 14 and 15, his cycling team clinched gold at the London Youth Games. He has won best design for the Hackney Youth Award logo; and for the last two years he has been playing rugby for Saracens Under 16s and was recently awarded the ‘Spirit of Rugby’ by the club. (Oh, he was once in the scouts, too!).
But it doesn’t stop there, this local lad from Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney has still found time to achieve an A* in Maths GCSE and gained top marks in Science and Business, and he’s still awaiting more results.
It’s because of this focused dedication and sporting achievement that Sean has been picked to be one of the Olympic Torchbearers for Hackney on July 21.
“I was very surprised when I found out, but then, of course, I was very happy. It’s a great achievement to be picked.”
“The torch is just amazing, the Olympics is returning back to the UK for the third time and I’ll be carrying it in my home borough.”
One of Sean’s hopes for the Olympics is that it will bring more opportunities to Hackney.
He says that when he first told his friends he’d been picked, they took a bit of convincing. “Quite a few of my mates didn’t believe me for a while.”
Sean’s mother, Chock, a biomedical scientist and his father, Alex, a builder, have raised a family of high achievers. His eldest brother, Karl, 30, works as an IT manager in Dubai, his sister Loretta, 24, has just finished a degree in fine art and shoe design at De Montford University in Leicester, and his other sister Louise, 21, has just completed her second year studying Maths at Queen Mary University in Mile End.
Sean’s fascination with sport began at primary school. At the age of eight he joined his local football club, where every Saturday his dedicated mother would cheer him on from the sidelines. It was his mother’s persistence, Sean says, that gave him the push to get involved in other sports.
His biggest sporting achievement so far has been swimming the Channel in a relay for Clissold Swimming Club. He was only 12 at the time. It took nine grueling months to train for it. Sean would train religiously at his swimming club, swimming for eight hours each school week and then every Saturday at 6.30am. Chock would then drive him to Dover or to a lido in South London to squeeze in a few more hours. Sean remembers the winter being unbearable at times. Once he swam in the Serpentine Lake, which had a thick layer of ice on top of it: “Because we were trying to go for records, we weren’t allowed to wear wet suits. That was the rule. We couldn’t wear anything else apart from our trunks and Vaseline.”
The big day of the event also had its challenges. “It was very wavy and very cold, quite tough, because I suffered a bit with sea-sickness. But it was such a great feeling to finish. All that hard work finally paid off.”
After the choppy grey waves of the Channel came the cycling. In 2009 and 2010, Sean and his team won the gold medal in cycling at the London Youth Games.“It was great winning it for the second time. But it was obviously a team effort.”
For the last two years Sean has been playing his favourite sport in the position of flanker for the Sarecens Under 16s Rugby Club. It was an unexpected surprise for Sean, when, in his first year there, he was awarded the ‘Spirit of Rugby’.
“The club’s based in Southgate and they were very impressed that I used to cycle there and back twice a week. During the seasons, I’m always up there working on my fitness and trying to improve my skills as a rugby player.”
With rugby comes broken bones and black eyes, which Sean hasn’t been short of in the past. “I dislocated a finger during a match once, but the coach just popped it back in and I carried on with the game.”
So, does Sean see himself as the next Jonny Wilkinson or Lance Armstrong?
“I’m planning to go into a science-based job, preferably study to become a doctor, but I’m always going to keep on playing sport, and if the opportunity arises, I would take it up and play professionally.”
And does he see himself as an inspiration to other young people living in Hackney?
“I would hope so. You have to put effort into things to achieve. Anyone can achieve their goals. With time, you can be perfect at anything.”