Andy Falconer


The Power Of Perseverance

10 May 2017 | Leave a Comment |

Mark sits beside a hospital bed in Italy, surveying the wreckage that is his best friend Jonny. perseveranceJonny is connected to this world by nothing more than humming machines and tubes. Jonny doesn’t realise that he’s been in a coma for the last 4 weeks. Jonny remembers nothing of being knocked off his scooter in a hit and run accident. Jonny doesn’t know how close he came to being killed.


If you are interested in cycling you will recognise the names of successful British cyclists such as Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton & Mark Cavendish but you probably haven’t heard of Jonny Bellis. Jonny is a European champion and he competed for Team GB in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. His best friend Mark, who sat beside his hospital bed, is Mark Cavendish, one of the world’s top cyclists.


Jonny thinks he’s in for a minor operation & will be back racing with the GB cycling team in Belgium the following week. Jonny has no idea that doctors have just told his parents that he will be paralysed from the neck down.


What happened to Jonny Bellis, who was told in 2009 he would never walk again?


Ten months after the crash he wobbled on his bike for the first time. Jonny’s recovery may have been miraculous in some ways but it was also due to his courage and persistence.  He approached his physiotherapy and rehabilitation with the same focus, determination and perseverance that he had previously shown in his approach to Olympic training. He is now back competing at international level.


One of our eight Habits of Learning at St Olave’s School is Perseverance.perseverance  Why? Because persevering is about being determined to stick with challenging situations. It is about knowing how valuable it is to have to struggle and to try hard. It is about using failure as a learning opportunity. This is what is at the heart of growth mindset. Jonny certainly had to stick with a challenging situation – it doesn’t get more challenging than being told you will never walk again. He had seen throughout his competitive career how valuable it is to struggle and try hard – he didn’t make it to the Olympics by easing off when things were tough.


Spend a few minutes on search engines and I’m sure you can find all sorts of amazingly heroic stories of great perseverance. But I’ve come across a multitude of much smaller, day to day, but no less significant examples when reading pupils’ end of year reports. There are countless references in those reports to children who have come across challenging situations in their learning. Children who have persevered and worked really hard. Children who have been able to react to failing as an opportunity to learn and who understand that most successful people had failures along the way.

The author Mary Ann Radmacher said, “courage doesn’t always roar, sometimes it’s the quiet voice at the end of the day whispering ‘I will try again tomorrow’”.


Every time we have a music concert, or I present music exam certificates in assembly I am reminded of the unseen perseverance that has gone on behind the scenes to enable such a performance to take place.


My favourite example of a lifetime of perseverance is a man who was born into a very poor family in Kentucky, USA. His family were forced out of their home when he was a teenager & he had to get a job to support them.


Then his mother died.

He wanted to make a difference so tried to get into politics, he ran for the State legislature & lost.

He lost his job, wanted to go to law school but he didn’t get in.

He borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business but was bankrupt by the end of the year and spent the next 17 years paying off that debt.

He ran again for State legislature, and won, got engaged to his childhood sweetheart, who then died & he was heart broken.

He had a total nervous breakdown & was in bed for 6 months.

He tried to become speaker of the State legislature – but was defeated and tried to become an elector – but was defeated.

He ran for Congress, and lost, ran again for Congress, and won and moved to Washington.

He then ran for re-election – and lost.

He ran for Senate of the United States – and lost, sought the Vice Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention – & didn’t even get 100 votes.

He ran for Senate again – and lost, again.

But he tried yet again, and this time was elected the 16th President of the United States of America. He was Abraham Lincoln.


I wonder what our St Olave’s pupils will accomplish in life if they stick at challenging situations; if they remember how valuable it is to struggle and to try hard; and if they use failure as a learning opportunity.


I wonder what stories they will have to tell in thirty years’ time, when they might be St Olave’s parents, having embraced the importance of perseverance and developing a growth mindset? An exciting prospect!