Tuesday, 19 June 2012

My Moment to Shine - Olympic Torch Relay

So as some of you know I was nominated to be a torchbearer in the Olympic Torch Relay and was fortunate enough to be selected to carry the Olympic Torch.  This actually goes back to Autumn 2011 when my wife, Joanne, nominated me.  This is what she said:

"I'd like to nominate my husband. Over the past few years he has worked tirelessly to raise money for the Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research, often at his own expense, both financially and personally. Most notably, back in 2007 he completed his first challenge weeks after recovered from viral meningitis and cycled 850miles around all twenty premiership football grounds against the wishes of both friends, family and his GP. More recently he completed a 3 day challenge which saw him run the Great North Run followed by cycling from Newcastle to London over the following two days. He's raised nearly £10k personally for the fund as well as encouraging others to raise money and raise awareness of Bowel Cancer, something he had tests for when he was 22 after a health scare. Despite injuries, illness and set backs with his challenges, he has never once complained or sought personal glory and I feel it's about time somebody gave something back to him and being a torchbearer I feel would be perfect. He's extremely patriotic and has supported the Olympic bid from day one and is proud that the eyes of the world will be on Britain over the coming months. Please, I would be delighted if you could consider Jamie as a torchbearer."

I was blown away as between then and March more emails were coming through confirming I had got through each stage of selection.  I didn't want to get my hopes too high though as I knew there were so many people being nominated.  

I did my leg of the relay on Saturday (16th June) and was fortunate enough to be running through the stunning backdrop of Riding Mill in Northumberland.  In the build up I had been contacted by a few radio stations, most notably Metro Radio who asked me to co-present a radio show dedicated to the torchbearers!  So two boyhood dreams fulfilled....being a radio dj and being part of the Olympics!  Not bad going!

I was starting to get very nervous about the big day though.  The fear of the flame going out, dropping the torch, the kit not fitting me!  Lots of things were going through my head, not to mention the fact that I'd broken my hand a few weeks earlier!

It all started to sink in though on Thursday at Alnwick in Northumberland when I was invited to the Torchbearers Reception and to witness the arrival of the flame into the region.  I started to feel a bit sick to be honest.  And a little emotional especially when the flame arrived.  This was huge!  Millions would be watching and then the thought hit me.  There's 62M people in Britain.  Only 8000 were selected to carry the flame and I would be 1 of them.  Or as one torchbearer put it "I'm the only person in the world right now carrying the Olympic torch".  

On the day itself we had been forecast for heavy rain continuous through the day!  However, as I sat in Hexham waiting for the convoy to start the sun started to peak through.  There were thousands of people in the car park of the leisure centre waiting for the convoy.  Everytime I walked outside they all stopped to stare.  On the bus that would take me to Riding Mill, I was fidgeting nervously.  It was like being in a goldfish bowl with everyone looking at you!

I was then asked "Are you ok with doing 900metres?".  turns out there were three slots but only one filled for Riding Mill.  From day one I had prepared myself to carry the flame through the village myself so I was ok with that.  

The one by one the police arrived, high fiving the spectators and then all the corporate trucks.  There wasn't much time to savour this though as we were off to be taken to our starting positions.  As we went up the hill and onto the main road that led out of Hexham the magnitude hit home.  There were thousands lining the road as far as the eye could see.  I was on my own on the bus with the two olympic chaperones and they said "Lap this up!  This is your moment".  I stood at the front of the bus waving to everyone as we went past!

When I got to the edge of Riding Mill I was greeted by 50 or so people.  I can cope with this.  A sprinkling of people along the way will be fine.  I was told i'd have to wait 10 minutes by the side of the road.  The nerves were jangling in a big way.  I had my photo taken with numerous people and then Sibbers from Real Radio jumped out of their chase car for a quick interview.  And before you knew it the convoy was there.  Out jumped 3 Met Police Officers in their grey uniforms with the Davy Lamp containing the flame.  

When the torch went up I started to get emotional and I honestly didn't know what to do.  One of the officers told me to stand for a bit to allow everyone to get into position.  I held the torch up and everyone cheered.  It was a bit of a blur to be honest.  I remember thinking that my grandad would be chuffed to bits and looking up to blow a kiss to him.  And off we went.  

We set off at a slow jog down the hill.  The rain was holding off but the road was wet and unbelievably slippy.  A combination of holding the torch, waving with the other hand and trying to keep my balance met I was flapping my arms all over the place (something that was later commented on!).  

As we went down the hill, more and more people were gathering by the road.  The met officer behind me told me to slow a bit so I could savour the moment and then we got chatting about football.  Turns out he is a Spurs supporter so when he found out I'm West Ham the banter began.  I was really starting to enjoy it, waving to as many people as possible but then as I came around the corner I was greeted by a sea of people.  I was choked!  Riding Mill was packed, 10 deep on the pavement!  And the noise!!!   That's when the emotion hit me.  I had tears in my eyes....it's hard to explain exactly how it felt.  Just mind blowing.  

I saw Joanne and our kids, Charlotte and George by the side of the road, George waving one of my West Ham shirts so I dashed over to give them high fives.  As I went round the bend by the Duke of Wellington there were even more people and this time they were on the road narrowing the carriageway down to 1 lane.  There were press photographers running about all over the place, kids running along side, flags everywhere and the unmistakable sound of the Coca Cola beaters!  

I was starting to flag a bit especially when I saw the hill leading out of the village.  That was tiring!  But I didn't dare stop.  I didn't want to stop!  I will say this though, after 700 metres that torch starts to get really heavy!

And at the edge of the village I stopped to hand the flame back to the team and my moment was up!  I was stood like a Chesire Cats grinning away!  As the shuttle bus arrived an elderly cyclist arrived and told me he had cycled 37 miles to get a photo of the torch so I stood waiting for him to get his camera out.....then I was bundled into the bus and driven off while he was still getting his camera sorted.  I felt terrible for him.  The trip back to Hexham was a bit of a haze.  I was in a little bubble.  The Olympics delegate made some comment about me having the same look as all the other torchbearers after they had finished their stint.

Now thanks to one very generous individual I got to keep my torch....or should I say my kids do.  So after getting off the bus, my torch was decommissioned and I was free to meet up with Jo and the kids back at The Duke of Wellington in Riding Mill.  I wasn't expecting the superstar status though that I got when I got there.  So many people wanting to get their photos taken with me and kids asking for my autograph.

Before the Relay, I'd often cycled through Riding Mill often thinking that I should stop in the pub for lunch one time.  I have a real soft spot for the village and the folks who live there.  They made me feel so welcome.  I'll be stopping off there more often now.  I might even take the torch with me.

A few days have passed now and it still hasn't quite sunk in.  I've been asked to do school assemblies, take the torch with me to weddings etc etc.  It's all a bit mad.  When I do my charity work I never do it with the thought of things like the relay in my mind.  I do it because I want to make a difference for others who are less fortunate than me.  And to be honest, when I see other peoples stories, mine doesn't seem all that great.  They all seem to do so much more than what I have done.  I'm just a normal everyday 34 year old who every so often sets out on long challenging bike rides etc.

So I'll be sat watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony on July 27th, proud.  Proud that it's being held in my family's back yard. But even more so knowing that when the cauldron is lit, I was part of the team that got it there.  

Getting my hands on a torch at the Torchbearers Reception
My kids waiting patiently in the rain

Images below with kind permission from The Hexham Courant

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