Last week’s Paralympic Flame Festival saw the four Paralympics flames arrive at Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the Games. Each flame, representing the four nations, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, were created on top of the four highest peaks in the UK: a representation of the struggles and achievements disabled people face. The flames were then united into one at Stoke Mandevile, and then continued on the final leg of it’s journey to the Games in London.
We spoke to one Disability Horizons reader, Mark Cooper, who was one of the lucky torchbearers carrying the Paralympic Flame.
My name is Mark Cooper, I have cerebral palsy and I am a sport fanatic. When I heard the news back in 2005 that London would be hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 I was overjoyed. Little did I know then that, seven years later, I would be carrying the Paralympic flame.
Towards the end of 2011 I was asked if I would like to be nominated by Capability Scotland to be a Paralympic torchbearer, and I didn’t think twice before saying yes. After sending off the form, I didn’t think I would hear any more about it, but in April 2012 I was told I had been successful. I joked with friends that I bet I would get a 3am slot when no one will see it. And guess what, I was told my official time would be 2.55am!
The day came and I travelled to the venue in Watford. Having seen the reception the Olympic torch had, I couldn’t quite believe I was involved and that the night was finally upon me. I was getting more and more excited.
But as the relay became delayed my excitement began to build into nerves, especially with the fear that no one would be there to watch. At 2.55am the other torchbearers in my leg and I were still at the collection point and we didn’t get moving until 3.20am. But as soon as we got onto the start line those nerves melted away as I was greeted by crowds of people jubilantly cheering us on. It was the total opposite to the empty sight I had worried about!
I sat in the middle of the road watching the other runners before me. As the flame got closer it dawned on me that this was the moment I had been waiting for. Our group moved off and, as I was second in line to carry the flame, before I knew it I had the flame in my hand.
I cannot describe how I felt in that moment as I was almost overcome with emotion; it all seemed totally surreal. I was thinking about my family and all that I had achieved in my life, including climbing Ben Nevis.
The journey home felt unreal as I tried to comprehend what I had achieved. I couldn’t quite believe I had a Paralympic torch in my bag! It was amazing having strangers ask for pictures; I couldn’t quite believe it. Later that night, as I drifted to sleep, my phone buzzed repeatedly with people saying they had seen me in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony flame montage; unbelievable.
Featured image credited to London 2012 website.
By Mark Cooper
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