SEBASTIAN, THE OLYMPIAN
Written by Sebastian’s granddad, Brian Knowlman
Every summer, the Michael Hall Steiner School in East Sussex hosts a unique event for pupils from other Steiner Schools, participants all being in Class Five (when they are 11), at a stage when they are “physically able but don’t yet have the heaviness or weight of teenage years”. In June 2018 there were children from 26 schools, most of them from the UK but also representatives from Steiner schools in Bulgaria and Poland – a total exceeding 400.
The main Olympic sports of running, jumping, wrestling, discus and javelin are included, with simplified versions to suit the participants’ age. There is no recording of times or distances: the children train, play and camp together for two days then take part in the games on the third. Each child is awarded a medal for the qualities they demonstrate through the three days. These can include strength, determination, grace and speed – real qualities that can be genuinely recognised.
Four years ago Valentina took part and I attended, staying at a local hotel. This year it was Sebastian’s turn, and Jane and I decided to do it in a day, starting early so we could arrive in good time for the opening event at 7.45. Knowing we had to make an early start, we each woke up about 3.30am and were on the road south by 5.15. Traffic on the M25 motorway was constant, even at that hour, though not at its Monday-t0-Friday intensity. Leaving the motorway at Junction 6, we were then on the A22 Eastbourne road all the way, pausing for coffee at a bright new McDonalds which was already open for business at 6.30. We arrived at the venue about 7.15 and located the Kings Langley school ‘marquee’, where several parents were already on site.
So far the day had been cloudy, but a blistering hot day was forecast and I predicted – correctly – that the sun would come out to coincide with the start of events at 7.45. This was our first view of the 400-strong corps of participants – an impressive sight. With the Opening Ceremony soon over and the Olympic Torch safely lit, the sports began, with Sebastian taking part in the Marathon (a one-mile course), the high jump and the javelin: he was also due to throw the discus, but declined to do so on the grounds that “I’m rubbish at that”.
Meanwhile the day got hotter and hotter, and by 1.00pm (midday GMT) the relentless sun was immediately overhead and visitors in the open had to take shelter under the trees which encircle the huge open sports field. Luckily spectators had brought ample supplies of food and cold drink, which they generously shared with all and sundry – friends and strangers alike. In the intervals between events it was good to chat to a couple of Sebastian’s teachers (Miss Tiggy and Anna) and learn how highly they regard him. They confirmed that Sebbo had been really enjoying the two nights under canvas, and being his usual helpful self.
After the final sports event – an interminable series of relay races, run at breakneck speeds despite the heat – there was time for what the programme described as ‘Picnic’, though in truth everyone had been snacking and drinking for most of the morning Shortly after the scheduled time of 2.30 came the closing ceremony, when each of the 400-plus children was given a medal – “because what matters is not winning or breaking records but taking part”. They each received an individual citation, and Sebastian’s read: “For your enthusiasm and energy, being always willing to try hard and push yourself, you listened attentively and improved your skills and this showed in your javelin throws”. Jane and I thought they might also have mentioned his high jumps, probably his most successful area.
So the Steiner Olympics were over for another year. It had been a marvellous day, very well organised: no announcements over blaring microphones, no shouted instructions, just friendly and proficient management by well-trained staff (well, they’ve had more than 20 years experience at it). It was only three o’clock, but it was another hour before Jane and I were able to leave, as she had to collect Sebbo’s belongings from the tent where he had spent two nights. Sebbo had meanwhile left with some friends to enjoy a welcome swim.
Now began a very bizarre journey back to Kings Langley. It should have been quick and easy, but somewhere we missed an important road direction sign and found ourselves, not on the A22 but the A23, and my assurances that this was bound to connect with the M25 were unfounded. Instead we made a laborious trek along the A23 towards London seeing altogether too much of the inner suburbs of Norbury, Streatham and Brixton before crossing the Thames on Hammersmith Bridge. Luckily Jane’s SatNav, which had expired in the heat, came back to life and directed us to the A4, M4 and home. This frustrating journey had taken three-and-a-quarter hours.
A difficult end to what had been a fabulous day: good events, good company, generally good fun. Most importantly, Sebastian enjoyed himself, behaved and performed brilliantly. Well done, our new Olympian!
Brian Knowlman: July 3 2018.
Photos of Sebastian to be added.