Two youngsters whose love of sailing has helped them to overcome significant challenges in their lives have been shortlisted for a prestigious national award. Matthew Gilbert (14) from Bridgwater in Somerset and Bradley Pedrick (11) from St Austell, Cornwall, are two of just four finalists from across the UK, in the Panerai Challenger Trophy, which includes a substantial financial award.

The Panerai Challenger Trophy is an initiative from Italian luxury watchmaker Panerai and the Royal Yachting Association (RYA). It recognises an outstanding young person between the ages of 8 – 18 years who has embraced the power of sailing or windsurfing to achieve a personal triumph to inspire us all. The finalists have all overcome physical, economic or social challenges to achieve a significant milestone within sailing or windsurfing.

The four young sailors, along with their families, will experience sailing on the River Thames on board Panerai’s very own classic yacht, ‘Eilean’, before the trophy presentation on 22 June. The winner will receive a grant of £5,000 to continue their development in sailing, windsurfing or more broadly within the marine industry. Their sailing club or training centre will also receive a grant of up to £10,000 to purchase new equipment that further supports junior sailors or windsurfers. The three runners up will receive £2,500 each and their clubs £5,000 each.

Matthew is one of four siblings in a family that contends daily with huge challenges. His young sister, Tayen, has very complex medical needs due to a genetic condition that he himself also has, and he additionally deals with ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia. He started sailing two years ago with his father and his twin brothers at Somerset Youth and Community Sailing Association (SYCSA), the organisation that has nominated him for the award. He has persevered with his weekly sailing sessions to become a competent dinghy sailor who is thriving with the personal success he is achieving. Having developed his physical co-ordination, mental coolness and sailing ability, he is now able to offer advice to new young sailors and has made strong friendships at SYCSA.

Matthew’s mum, Kali, is delighted for him – and his brothers: “He was really shocked, surprised, happy and excited when he found out he was a finalist. We hadn’t told him that he had been nominated by SYCSA, but we were very chuffed about what people thought of him, and very proud that his 12-year-old twin brothers were also listed in the top 10.

“Winning a grant would be a massive boost for Matthew’s confidence and mental wellbeing – a lot revolves around Tayen, so this being about him would be huge. He wants to do courses and buy kit and boats – he talks about it every day, so it’s a massive deal for him, because being on the water is somewhere he feels calm and free.”

Brad started sailing at Polkerris Beach, the training centre that has nominated him for the award, just a year ago with his school, and has thrown himself into the sport, despite having a lot to contend with. As a three-year-old, he had his leg amputated below the knee due to a rare condition; at just seven, he had to have kidney surgery and then, shortly afterwards, he suffered serious burns in an accident. In addition, he has undergone revision surgeries on his leg, which will continue until he is fully grown. He has nevertheless learned not just to sail, but to put on a wetsuit over his prosthetic leg, carry his own kit down the beach and work with, and help, others.

According to Brad’s mum, Cheryl, sailing has given him focus, and much more: “He’s the kind of boy who wants to be active all the time and he has lots of energy. He just gets on with it – he’s amazing how he adapts to things and has a positive attitude to everything. It’s given him a huge focus and it’s helped him to be calm and focused in school too, knowing that he has sailing to look forward to.”

Winning a grant will mean a huge amount to Brad. It will enable him to have one-to-one sailing sessions, which combined with his regular attendance at his sailing club, will help him to build on his passion for sailing and develop his talent.

Cheryl said: “He is bouncing off the walls knowing that he’s going to London for the trophy presentation. As I’m a single mum and he has five siblings, the trip will be a rare chance for him to have individual time with me, as well as enjoying an extremely exciting day.”

Now in the second year of the award, Panerai has commissioned the acclaimed Simon Hasan to design and produce the trophy, which has, once again, been inspired by the craft of classic boat building and Panerai’s Eilean, built in the famous Scottish boatyard Fife in 1936. Given his innovative use of materials, embracing both ancient craft and industrial processes, he was a natural fit to the task.

Over three years, Panerai has committed to donate £120,000 towards the initiative to demonstrate the sport’s accessibility and inspire the next generation of sailors. The brand, known for its relationship to watersports, has recently unveiled their sponsorship of America’s Cup Challenger, Luna Rossa.

Jean-Marc Pontroué, CEO of Panerai, who has overseen the launch of these projects, commented: “Sailing can unite communities across the world, and we are delighted to partner with the RYA to support young talent for a second year running. Panerai continues its quest to strengthen the links with the sea and community initiatives to nurture this journey into the future.”

RYA Chief Executive, Sarah Treseder said: “We are very pleased to receive so many fantastic applications in the second year of the partnership. Each story speaks of perseverance and hardship, but also of hope and happiness. It was extremely challenging to select the finalist but we now have four amazing stories which will inspire more young people to harness the positive benefits that watersports can bring to a young person’s life and we thank Panerai for making this possible.”

Sarah added: “Created together with the RYA’s OnBoard programme, this joint initiative with Panerai, is designed to promote the many positive benefits which getting out onto the water can bring to young people’s lives. We are thrilled that this year, we have once again heard from so many inspiring youngsters and their stories of overcoming adversity, plus the positive benefits which this has brought to themselves, their families and their sailing communities.”

Run by the RYA, OnBoard is a grass roots programme which introduces sailing and windsurfing to young people aged 8 to 18, through schools, youth groups and training centres. The low cost sessions are designed to promote equal access to sailing for young people from all social and economic backgrounds, whilst encouraging their character development. Since 2005, OnBoard has introduced more than 900,000 children to sailing and windsurfing in the UK, converting some 70,000 of them into regular participants.

For more information about how to get involved in sailing visit www.rya.org.uk/go/onboard.