Thursday 19th July 2012 will be a day I will remember for the rest of my life…
The London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay. When the games were announced to be in London for this memorable year back in 2005, I was just a kid in Year 9 at school that got sent around the Maths block to inform the other classes that were already aware of the news. In 2008 I started a string of crazy endurance challenges to aid and inspire others with the same condition I had, in diabetes, that saw my nomination to be one of the 8000 torchbearers get selected. I took on a 29 mile run around the Thanet coastal route at the age of 17 to raise funds for my struggling diabetes clinic’s children unit, and to my own surprise smashed it in a timing of 3 hour 1 minute. I had great support from school friends and my family. My next challenge targetted the Isle of Wight for Diabetes UK, a 70 mile coastal route with some extreme hills, in 2009. Unfortunately the weather was very much against me with constant rain and fog, followed by a diabetic hypo attack which saw me hit the floor. I continued off schedule the next day but managed to finish 50 of the 70 miles. A year later I had a hunger to come back to the Isle and complete this challenge, so again for Diabetes UK I took on the Isle in a weekend. This time, 2010, I pulled through it with a sprint finish like I had done in 2008, however, on the final day of running I suffered damage to my knee cartilage and had to push my pain barriers to the limits, particularly when sprinting the final 100 meters. I didn’t run through 2011 as a consequence, but in being an adrenaline-junkie made a come back in April 2012 for type 1 diabetes charity JDRF to take on running a 44 mile coastal route from Hastings to Brighton, over Beachy Heads 530ft upwards and the repeated cliffs for 5 miles after it. I came down very unwell through the day and suffered a 2.8 level hypo, which in taking onboard a load of carbohydrate snacks to pick my blood glucose levels back up, had me vomiting several times through the day. After 8 hours and 45 minuts of endurance I completed the run, and in terms of stamina I felt I could continue if I wanted to, but I added another sprint finish!
I heard the news I’d been shortlisted to be a torchbearer in autumn 2011, but never really expected to get it. When it was announced via email that the torchbearers had been offered a place in late December (not back in 63…) I checked my email and didn’t see anything, however, had a gut feeling just to check my ‘SPAM’ mail section. And there I found an email titled LONDON 2012 and opened it up to read the good news… and fall off my chair in shock!
The day was incredible. I’d seen it on the news each evening, the crowds of people out on the streets cheering and supporting the torchbearers carrying the Olympic Flame, it really appeared to be massive worldwide, and something that really gives a sense of pride to being British in that respect, no other nation in the World could give quite such a great reaction. In the morning I went down with my supportive household family, with my sister Kaylie having turned down contracts to be there for the event, and also a few friends followed along the motorway, Nicky, who also has Type 1 diabetes and I’ve tried my best over the years to help his control out – something he is slowly getting better at – and also Sharna who has been my most supportive friend through every challenge. Whilst having an early breaky in a Margate cafe with my early supporters, I was also joined by some of my family that live down there in aunt Tracy and my cousin jess and her boyfriend Rob. It meant a lot to me that they would be there, especially Tracy, as they’ve also always been very supportive of me in my challenges and last year we lost uncle Michael, it is something the family will never totally get over but everyone has been there for Tracy and as a family unit everyone has stuck close, and I’m proud of them all for that. By taking part in the relay I hoped to make them proud and I’m sure Michael was watching over with a smile and pint of guiness.
After a briefing at the Thanet Council in Margate the Torchbearers all got onto the Torchbearer Bus that would take us to our torchbearing destinations, through all the busy crowds! In taking a seat one of the torchbearers asked me if it was ok for her to sit next to me, there was something recognisable about her but I couldn’t quite think at that moment, and then we took turns to stand up on the bus and tell a little bit about our stories. It turned out that the woman sat next to me was Britain’s first swimming World Champion, Karen Pickering, MBE and 4x Olympian. Famous Thanet-based artist, Tracy Emin, was also on the bus! The bus was crazy, it felt like being in the Royal family with all these crowds of people we were driving past and waving to. It was a great honour to be a part of it. On my stop I didn’t quite know what to expect, it was one thing being on the bus and seeing all the supporters waving away, but to be out there with the torch in hand with all the screaming supporters and seeing everyone, it was just amazing! I spotted my family members, my cousins Charis, Brad and Amie were all about, and uncles Alan, Keith and Darren, aunts Liz and Sharon, and baby cousin Henry, my Nan Griff whose always been there at my challenges, and other Nan who lives nearby, my Grandad Bruce and Pauline, Tracy’s mum and my adopted nan June, my mate Matt and his girlfriend Lauren, friends Teri and Amy from my school/sixth form days and also Mia, who missed the first part of it but made the journey down, also Teresa, aunt Sylvie, Tony, it was just great support all round! My friends and family ran the distance with me, I was so overwhelmed I lost any kind of plan in my mind as the flame arrived and I held it on my torch. I ran, I probably should have slowed down, my dad was zig-zagging all over the place trying to keep up and take photos! The crowds were just amazing, I high fived people, and I tried to keep everyone involved punching the air and shouting “come on!” it may have only been 300 meters, and for an ultra-marathon runner that is not far, but it seemed to last a long while. It was so surreal yet the smile on my face was there to been seen and I couldn’t control it. At the end of my stretch I passed the flame onto the next torchbearer for his moment to shine, then got back onto the torchbearer bus to see the others who each had a cheshire cat smile like mine!
Seeing my family and friends afterwards was great and had I have charged every person who approached me £1 for a photograph afterwards, I’d be a millionaire! I went to the Hussar pub in Westgate before moving on to Broadstairs with everybody to eat and have another drink at the Albion. I got stopped by every person I saw, and even at Westgate, when walking to meet my family, was pulled into a school to take some photos with the kiddies. I’ve been speaking to a number of Primary Schools lately so this was something I’ve been getting used to – but I had more photos with the staff than the kids! And on Broadstairs beach I was also speaking to a number of people and posing for more photos, but I loved it.
I was going to announce my next challenge on the day, but these things take planning and I want my exact sponsor details and targets confirmed first for a challenge of this size. It concerns most areas of the UK and the month of November, which has World Diabetes Day on 14th. More to come soon…