Paralympic champion goes back to the classroom

Mansfield’s Paralympic kayaking champion Charlotte Henshaw went back to the classroom to share her Tokyo 2020 success with her former schools.

Charlotte, who is also the double World Champion, visited St Patrick’s Catholic Primary and All Saints’ Catholic Voluntary Academy along with Executive Mayor Andy Abrahams.

In recognition of her latest achievements, the Mayor surprised Charlotte by presenting an engraved shield named The Charlotte Henshaw Award for her to give to each school. They will be awarded annually in recognition of a pupil’s achievements.

Charlotte won gold when she clocked up a Paralympic Best time of 50.760 seconds in the KL2 kayak race in Tokyo. Just 11 days later she won gold not once but twice in the KL2 and VL3 200m at the World Championships in Copenhagen. The Paralympic gold means the former swimmer now has a complete set – adding to the silver and bronze she won in the pool at London 2012 and Rio 2016.

Charlotte was joined at St Patrick’s by one of her biggest supporters - her mum Rosie. Charlotte brought along a paddle and her Paralympic gold medal, which is made from material recycled from electronic devices donated by the people of Japan, to show staff and pupils.

She told the children that her immediate feeling after crossing the finish line first in Tokyo was one of relief and excitement followed by hunger and realising she had sore muscles. She said her time on the podium went so fast that she wished Great Britain’s national anthem was longer.

Charlotte is enjoying a well-deserved break before she starts training again in December and builds up to next summer’s World Championships and the start of the selection process for the next Paralympics. She confirmed she’d love to compete in Paris 2024, where she hopes to compete for two medals.

She answered all sorts of questions about her sporting achievements and life as an athlete and talked about the importance of working hard academically even when you are into sport.

She was asked about her favourite subject at school - English - and if you’re wondering what her favourite film is it’s Moulin Rouge along with Disney films and musicals.

Charlotte says: “You always want to inspire people and it was really important for me to go back to my former schools. I hope that what I had to say has informed, helped or inspired them in some way.

“Even the youngest children asked really insightful questions. One amusing question came from a teenager who wanted to know what weight I can benchpress in the gym. I think I impressed them with the answer!”  

Children at St Patrick’s gave Charlotte a handmade congratulations card decorated with personal messages, while GCSE and A-level PE students at All Saints’ asked for autographs and posed for photos. Charlotte signed souvenir postcards, which have been given to the schools to give to selected pupils as a memento of her visit.

Mayor Andy said: “Charlotte is a fantastic athlete, winning Paralympic medals in not one but two very different sports. She’s an inspirational role model for our young people, particularly girls, and as a council we are keen to mark her most recent success in ways that will hopefully inspire children to realise that with hard work and determination they too can reach the very top.”

St Patrick’s Head Jane Smedley, who taught Charlotte at the school 24 years ago, has followed Charlotte’s achievements over the years and set her alarm to watch her race at 3am in Tokyo.

She said the children and staff were absolutely captivated and could have sat listening to her experiences all day.

All Saints’ Head Carlo Cuomo said: “It was very humbling and exciting to welcome an ex-student into school who is the best in the world in their chosen field. The students had some very pertinent questions about Charlotte's life as an athlete, how she’s overcome great adversity and how she manages the mental challenges of competing at the top level.

“We focus a lot on aspiration, having a goal and the importance of being resilient and Charlotte spoke really eloquently about that. It’s really helpful for the students to meet an ex-student who embodies all those key messages that we as teachers try to give.”

Due to Mansfield’s high Covid rates and in line with Charlotte’s personal wishes the council is marking her success in several ways. Charlotte has been invited to attend October’s meeting of Full Council so district councillors can acknowledge her achievements. There are also plans for Charlotte and the Mayor to be guests at a home match at Mansfield Town’s One Call Stadium where football fan Charlotte will be presented to thousands of spectators at half time.

Mansfield’s Old Town Hall was lit up in gold to coincide with The National Lottery's ParalympicsGB Homecoming event in Wembley on 12 September, which Charlotte was unable to attend due to isolating ahead of travelling to the World Championships in Denmark.

Charlotte already holds the town's highest honour, the Freedom of Mansfield. The competition pool at Water Meadows is named the Hynd and Henshaw Competition Pool in honour of Charlotte and Mansfield swimmers Ollie and Sam Hynd, who were all coached by Mansfield District Council’s Swim Coach and Development Officer Glenn Smith.

Published: September 27th 2021