Fleetwood teen to compete in Dance World Cup finals in Rome
A 17-year-old boy from Fleetwood has reached his life's ambition to compete in the 2020 Dance World Cup finals in Rome, despite battling with type 1 diabetes.
Stephen Whitaker moved with his parents Nichola and Darren to Chatstworth Avenue, Fleetwood from Waddington Avenue, Burnley in early 2019, to care for his Grandad after he was taken ill with cancer.
After starting dancing at the age of six, he wanted to continue following his passion on the Fylde coast, and found the Joanne Wilson Ballet and Dance School on Furness Drive, Poulton.
He said: "Dancing has always been my biggest passion in life, and I love all styles but my favourites are contemporary, commercial and street.
"To be able to represent Great Britain at the Dance World Cup 2020 in Rome is a dream come true, I'm so excited."
Stephen will compete in the prestigious dance competition in Italy from June 24 to July 4, and will perform contemporary and commercial routines in the solo category as part of Team GB.
He will also compete in another world-renowned competition, the Dance World Championships in Portugal, in April.
He currently studies a BTEC National Diploma in Dance at Burnley College and works at Home Bargains in Fleetwood, in preparation for starting a degree at Manchester's Shockout Dance School in September 2020.
But despite his success, after an unexpected diabetes diagnosis at the age of 15 Stephen's dance dreams were nearly destroyed.
He continued: "When I found out I had diabetes I stopped dancing completely.
"I had such a hard time learning how to manage my blood sugar levels.
"My mum was a massive support but she wasn't there when I was at dance, so she couldn't help me."
In a desperate bid to get back to "his happy place," Stephen learned to manage his blood sugar levels within a few months and continued to pursue his dreams.
Now he aims to follow in the footsteps of his dance mentor Joanne Wilson, who also lived in Fleetwood until she left to join the Royal Ballet School 25 years ago, at 12 years old before moving back to the Fylde coast to open her Poulton dance school.
Speaking about her protégé, she said: "He is the loveliest lad ever and he deserves everything he has achieved.
"Having diabetes knocked Stephen's confidence massively, and because his sugars dipped so low it really set him back.
"But he has done an amazing job and this is such a great opportunity for him.
"I'm incredibly proud of him, he works so hard and he always so on the ball. I'm thrilled for him."
Stephen and his family have now set up a Go Fund Me page to help raise the money to get him to the World Cup.