Bailey Matthews and the power of joy

Bailey Matthews is clearly loving life at the moment. If you did not watch the UK’s BBC TV’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) Awards on Sunday night, or are not one of the 80 million plus people who have viewed the video online showing Bailey completing a triathlon earlier this year, then you need to look up Bailey’s history and achievements as soon as possible so that you can share in his joy.

For 8-year-old Bailey has cerebral palsy and yet, undaunted and determined to follow in the footsteps of his father, trained for and completed a children’s triathlon in North Yorkshire in July in which he had to swim 100m, ride a bike for 4km and run for 1.3 km. He had his father alongside him – and a lifeguard in the water – but he was resolutely cheerful as he made his way around the course, and so enthusiastic and resolute that, 20 metres from the finish, he abandoned his walking frame and made for the line. He stumbled and fell, but picked himself up and threw himself forward again, crossing the finish line to the cheers of the crowd. On Sunday night, he was awarded the Helen Rollason Award at the SPOTY awards, to a standing ovation.

In all his interviews before and since, Bailey has revealed himself to be irrepressibly joyful. He has enjoyed engaging in banter with interviewers galore, and he chuckled through his mock boxing bout with Tyson Fury. How many 8 year olds do you know who could stand up in an arena of adults, under the lights and cameras and noise, grab the microphone and enjoy telling the crowd that they can stop cheering now? It is easy to imagine that he is not always the most obedient of children – such ebullience is rarely easily contained – but this roguish element endears him to us more, as when we watch and listen to him, we are reminded that we can all receive pure, unadulterated pleasure from sharing another’s joy. It is said that when a baby laughs, the world stops for a moment, and that was exactly what viewers experienced on Sunday night, and since, when they have seen Bailey in action.

His parents are incredibly proud of Bailey – to bursting point! – and with reason. They too deserve our admiration and gratitude for bringing Bailey up to be so determined and so full of joy, and for letting us share in this. Shared joy is a beautiful thing – an amazing aspect of the world that we inhabit with 7 billion others. And when better than today – here and now, in this very moment – to recollect this, to revel in our good fortune, and to include others in it.

In thanking Bailey for reminding us of the power of joy, go and be joyful today – and share it.


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