His reaction said it all. A delighted Christopher McDonnell punched the air, kissed the trophy and proudly lifted it aloft, after discovering he was the winner of the Northumberland Gazette Sports Personality of the Year for 2015.
It certainly was a moment to cherish for the 24-year-old disability sports star from Longhoughton, as he was presented with the coveted prize at last week’s Alnwick and District Sport Council’s annual awards night. And boy did he deserve it.
Last year was one to remember for talented Christopher, who shone in the swimming pool and on the football field.
But what is even more special, is that he has achieved this against a backdrop of difficulties, from living with Down’s syndrome to undergoing two major open-heart surgeries when he was younger.
No matter what life has dealt him, Christopher has not let it hold him back and he is reaping the rewards. He is an inspiration, and it is this courage, humility and determination – not to mention achievement – which prompted Gazette readers to vote for him to win the prestigious Personality prize.
Christopher said it was amazing to top the poll and dedicated the award to all of the people who have helped him over the years, including his former swimming coaches David Davison and John Lester, as well as current mentors Paul Saxon and Mary Purvis.
Among those to share in Christopher’s special moment at Alnwick Playhouse last week was older brother Alex, who was back from Dubai, and parents Neal and Helen, who thanked everyone who voted for their son. Neal said: “It means so much that people have supported Christopher. The trophy has taken pride of place at home.”
Christopher fended off competition from a star-studded shortlist of local heroes to win the Gazette crown.
Also in the running for the 2015 accolade were champion boxer Cyrus Pattinson, England footballer Lucy Bronze, cricket run-machine Brian Thompson, surf-kayak champion Tamsin Green and Alnwck Dolphins stalwart Bill Cunningham.
Christopher’s 2015 résumé certainly makes for fine reading. At the European Down’s Syndrome Swimming Competition, he swam six personal bests (PB), won two gold medals, one silver and a bronze. He also achieved two European qualifying times and was selected for the England C relay team.
Then, at the Reading Learning Disability Open (incorporating the Special Olympic Southern Regional Gala), he achieved three PBs, a hat-trick of medals, including a gold, and two European qualifying times. Christopher, an Alnwick Dolphin, is working towards training with the GB Down’s syndrome swimming squad.
Out of the pool, he plays football for the Newcastle United Foundation Down’s syndrome team. The side reached the semi-final of a six-a-side national competition and he played in all of the matches. Towards the end of the year, he scored a hat-trick against Norwich, to pull the score back to 4-4.
Winning the Gazette trophy topped off a good night’s work for Christopher, who also took the Sports Council’s prize for Most Improved Sports Person.
○ Awards round-up, p36/37.