Our brilliant colleague Tom Mawdsley has defied learning disabilities and school bullies to go on to become European and world para judo champion – and now he's setting his sights on the 2020 Paralympic Games.
Tom, who's 21 and has Asperger syndrome, is going from strength to strength after getting a job as a porter at our South Woodham Ferrers store, where he's really popular with colleagues and customers alike.
His mum Wendy said: "He’s started growing in confidence since he started working at Asda. He's really, really happy there. He loves his job and helping people, and everyone has been brilliant with him.”
Tom took up judo when he was nine and has become a star – he has won the British Championships six times, as well as numerous national and international titles. He won the International Judo Federation Intellectual Disabilities World Judo Championships in Germany in 2017 and last year won the European ID Judo Championships in London. Now he's hoping for the chance to represent Team GB at the Paralympics.
He said: "Everyone at the store supports me and asks how I'm getting on, and they let me have time off when I'm involved in a tournament.
"I love judo – it's helped me a lot and I've made a lot of friends through it. I started out with judo when I was nine and my dream is to compete in the Paralympics, either in 2020 or 2024.
"I did all 18 junior judo grades, then did the senior belts and got my black belt. I'm now a first dan and I'm going for my second dan.
"I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when I was four. It affects my motor skills a little, so I carry and hold things a bit differently, but it doesn't impact on me. In fact, the gripping you have to do in judo has helped me.
"I forget about negativity – my attitude is onwards and upwards."
Wendy says Tom's really gained in confidence since starting work at Asda last summer.
She said: "We are extremely proud of him – he's helpful, polite and treats people the way he wants to be treated.
"Without judo he wouldn’t be the lad he is today, but his social skills have really improved since he joined Asda. He’s more self-aware and more sociable – it’s been really good for him. He’s met new people, he’s got a wider circle of friends and they’ve made him very welcome.
"It’s his first proper job after trying a couple of apprenticeships and working in the catering industry.
"Asperger syndrome presents differently to different people. Tom is below average with the intellectual side, so it takes him time to understand questions and orders, and it shows in his motor skills too. Things like riding a bike and holding a pen were difficult for him.
"Judo's helped his motor skills, his fitness and his confidence too. It takes an awful lot of confidence to fight an opponent one-on-one in front of hundreds of people.
"Tom's not always had an easy time of things. Unfortunately the bullies started to appear at secondary school when his success at judo made him a prime target. He didn’t want to go out and didn’t want to mix because he was worried about being bullied.
"Judo was an outlet as was social media. Through judo he met lots of people around the country and across Europe and they’ve become friends on social media."
Tom's colleagues at the store are really proud of his achievements in sport and at work. The store's customer trading manager Mandy Wood said: "Tom is a credit to the department and the store. He's excellent, so polite – the customers love him.
"He's adapted so well to his role and he does a great job. We're so proud of his judo achievements too."