A mother has described how her autistic son’s life has been transformed – thanks to rugby.
Leo Gradwell Spencer, 11, was bullied at school and struggled with self-confidence until he attended a rugby training camp run by Sale Sharks last summer.
The youngster, from Hyde in Tameside , joined a club in Glossop before attending a second Sale Sharks training camp last Easter.
Rugby ‘changed Leo’s life’, according to his mum Alex, who praised the efforts of coaches who work for Sale Sharks’ Community Trust.
Leo’s new-found confidence has helped him make new friends at school and he has been shortlisted at the prestigious Premiership Rugby awards.
Mum Alex said: “Before rugby Leo was typically autistic. He was self-centred, would not cooperate, couldn’t grasp the concept of teamwork and really struggled to make friends.
“He used to be bullied terribly and was left out of everything at school and, because he has high functioning autism, he did understand what was happening but not always why, which made it even more painful as a parent to see.
“It was incredibly challenging not just for Leo but for his family too. He was treated as ‘Leo, that autistic child’. But not anymore.
“It’s no exaggeration that rugby – and Sale Sharks – has changed his life.
“Now he’s just Leo – he’s my boy – and it’s wonderful to see his achievements being recognised like this.”
Three others associated with Sale Sharks have also been nominated at the same awards ceremony at the House of Commons in July, including former Navy man Ian Rudge, 59, who had struggled to get work, but was helped by the club’s forces program.
“The help I’ve received has been phenomenal and my confidence has grown and now my future is looking better because I have a plan,” he said
Two coaches at the club’s Community Trust, Vicky Irwin and Paula Bradbury, are also up for gongs.
Paula Bradbury set up the women and girls section at Winnington Park rugby club in Cheshire in 2013 while Vicky Irwin is behind the Community Trust’s ‘In the Pack’ programme, which aims to take rugby to people who might not have had the chance to play.
Jonny Acheson, executive director of the trust, said: “We’re so proud of all four of our nominees.
“All of the Premiership Rugby clubs do fantastic work in their communities so to have made four shortlists is great credit to the nominees themselves and also to our coaches who work so hard to make a difference in our communities.”