Natesha Riddiough did not speak for the first four years of her life. When she finally spoke she stammered over nearly every word.
But today Natesha, 14, is a bubbly, bright pupil who has won a Diana Champion Volunteer Award for her contribution to the Colchester Phoenix Amateur Swimming Club, as a competitor and a volunteer.
Natesha began swimming at the club when she was four.
She said: “I have tight hamstring muscles and my physiotherapist said about joining Pheonix.
“I had to have botox injections in my legs, loads of them, and when I am 16, if they are still bad I may have to have an operation.”
Swimming helps stretch and improve the muscles and Natesha, who also has weakness in her left side, worked her way through the ranks to join the competitive squad.
She also works as a volunteer in the club, mentoring the younger swimmers.
Natesha, who was diagnosed with autism, said: “In Phoenix, we are not allowed to use the word can’t’, we always have to try our best.”
Natesha, from New Town, Colchester, has also managed to overcome her debilitating stammer.
At one time, her mother, Christina, learnt sign language so the two could communicate. But after attending a centre in Islington when she was about ten, Natesha learnt how to allow her words to flow and there was no stopping her.
Now Natesha has her sights set on becoming a lifeguard and working on Bondi Beach in Australia.
She said of swimming: “It is my life. It has given me so much confidence. I would not have got here without the support of the club.
“I was so surprised to get the Diana award. My mum keeps telling me I am amazing.”
The awards were set up in memory of Princess Diana and have the Prime Minister David Cameron as patron with the support of Prince Harry.
Zoe King, headteacher at St Helena School, where Natesha is a pupil, said: “We are extremely proud of Natesha.
“The Diana Award will encourage her to continue her work and will hopefully inspire others to volunteer in their schools and communities.”
Tessy Ojo, the chief executive officer of the awards, said: “The Diana Award is proud to recognise young volunteers, like Natesha, who have the confidence and courage to stand up for what they believe.”