Counting yourself among the lucky few youth athletes to be selected for Team GB is a rare achievement, but being selected alongside your classmate puts an extra shine on the honour.

Lathallan School in Johnshaven may only host around 200 pupils most years, but this summer two of those will represent their country on the world stage.

From their small corner of north-east Scotland, Lathallan classmates Dean Fearn and Arabella Blackburn will travel to Maribor, Slovenia to compete in the 2023 European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) from July 23-29.

Arabella, 15, will be donning her helmet and cycling gear for the road races, braving the heat alongside some of the best young riders in Europe.

Meanwhile, Dean, also 15, will dive into the pool in Maribor looking to cement his status as one of Scotland’s top young swimmers.

And after the curtain falls on the EYOF, Dean will travel on to Trinidad and Tobago on August 4 to compete for Team Scotland at the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games.

Years of effort paying off

Arabella has felt at home on a bike since she was a child. Rides through the local woods are a longstanding family tradition, and she honed her skills on cycling trips with her parents, Steve and Saskia, and brother, Sebastian.

But it was at Lathallan, under the wing of teacher Oliver Carter, where cycling changed from a hobby to a possible career.

“Mr Carter started a triathlon club and I joined and did some running, biking and swimming.

“But he told me that I sat really naturally on the bike and that I should keep going with it.”

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Not long after she started competing, Arabella found success.

“I think it was at the Under-12 level that I started to do a bit better. Then as a second year at Unver-14s, things really started clicking at the British national level.”

The Herald:

Nine-year-old Arabella, centre, with father Steve and brother Sebastian on a family ride in Fetteresso Forrest.

Once she had a few wins under her belt, she started catching the eye of Team GB scouts.

The officials who watched Arabella race were impressed by her speed but also her bold racing style and fearlessness when moving through the pack.

Her success culminated this summer with a selection for Team GB and a ticket to Maribor.

And Arabella hopes that representing Team GB is only the first of many career milestone achievements.

"I think it'll be a very wild experience. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, definitely.

"It’s a big goal of mine to keep progressing as a rider. Keep moving up through teams, and hopefully one day join a world tour team of some kind as a professional."

On land or in water, success starts with training

For Dean, competing internationally at two major events in one summer is going to be a major step in his career.

He’s factoring in the impacts of travel, time differences and climate into his training regimen.

"I think Trinidad is around an eight or nine-hour flight. And even though travel to Slovenia won't be so bad, the heat, the time difference and being in an unfamiliar place will all be factors."

The Herald:

 Dean Fearn has been racking up medals for years

After returning from the EYOF, Dean will only have one day to rest and regroup before setting off for the Youth Commonwealth Games at the start of August.

"I'm quite honoured to be on both teams in the same summer. Each competition feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Dean’s preparation for races involves a lot of work on dry land, including time spent in the gym and on the pitch competing in other sports.

In his 15 years, Dean has suited up for aquathlons (running and swimming competitions), cycling, rugby, football and swimming.

He said that his family has supported him throughout his swimming career, from making the time to take him to meets or helping keep the busy competition schedule organised.

Classmates to teammates

Dean added that it is a privilege to represent Team GB alongside his friend Arabella.

“It's pretty cool that there's only a few Scottish competitors overall but two go to the same school, in the same year, same class.

“We've been in the same class for 13 years now. We are good friends and have been able to speak a lot about this recently as we get ready."

Dean and Arabella both credited Lathallan with providing extra support and flexibility. 

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Lathallan headmaster Richard Toley said the school was proud to give its student-athletes the platform they need.

“Arabella and Dean have shown exceptional talent and dedication to their sports since their early years in Junior School at Lathallan, and we are thrilled that they will have the opportunity to compete at such a high level.”

The 17th edition of the EYOF takes place this July 23-29 in Maribor Slovenia. More than 3,000 athletes from 48 countries will compete in 11 Olympic sports. Team GB will field athletes in five of these: artistic gymnastics, judo, mountain bike, road cycling and swimming.