The day our local heroes got the chance to shine with the torch

CARRYING the Olympic torch meant something different to every person who took the flame as it made its way through Warwickshire on Sunday.

Sportsmen and women, parents, volunteers and others each ran around 400 yards before passing on the flame as the Olympic torch relay passed through Warwick, Leamington and Kenilworth.

ONE of the first was Graham Fulford, who set up the Graham Fulford Charitable Trust after a good friend and a close relative died of prostate cancer.

He was determined to raise awareness of the little-diagnosed but easily treatable cancer, buying mobile testing machines and visiting men’s groups around the country. Since it was set up the charity has carried out 22,000 tests and found 531 tumours.

Born in the Butts, Mr Fulford lives in Mill Street. Warwick Castle gave Mr Fulford’s friends and relatives 125 passes so they could see him run his stretch. He held a celebratory barbeque afterwards to thank the charity’s supporters.

For Mr Fulford, it was not the running, but the taking part.

He said: “The crowds, the support and the buzz was incredible. I was just looking for friends and being inspired by it.

“It was 3.30am before I got to bed and I still couldn’t sleep.”

FOR Chris Johnson, it was an extra special moment, because it was also the first time he saw his new grandson Zach.

Due to receive the flame in the grounds of Warwick Castle, Mr Johnson had been worried about having his family there, until one of the police escorts offered him his mobile phone so he could call his son.

For much of the distance he was out of sight of the media, but for the final stretch his other son Mark, who lives in America, was able to watch his father as he lit the torch of 1968 and 1972 Olympic middle distance runner Sheila Carey.

He said: “It put the cream on the cake for me to have my family there.”

RECEIVING the torch in Jury Street was 30-year-old Warwickshire College sports and exercise lecturer Sam Starvis.

Sam, who has lived in Warwick for eight years, plays for Warwick Hockey Club and has also run the London Marathon in aid of the Stroke Association, said she never imagined so many people would turn out.

She said: “It completely symbolises what the Olympics are all about. People are proud we have the Games and it’s local people who are able to see the torch.

“The athletes are only part of it. The fact that we’re hosting the Games and as a country we really get behind it. Seeing all these people participating and then having a go gives them something to aspire to.”

LAST to receive the flame in Warwick was Lucas Hillson, who set up the Leamington Lemmings ultimate frisbee team and Leamington Badminton Club to help beginners in the area.

Nominated by his girlfriend Naomi Brook, Lucas works for Leamington-based environmental consultancy Amec, and designed the rifle and shotgun range to be used in the Games.

The 29-year-old admits to having been cynical about running only 400m with the torch, but this, and his nerves, were overcome the minute he stepped off the torchbearers’ bus.

He said: “There were loads of banners and bunting, loads of kids had made their own torches and were waving them. The looks on their faces were pretty cool.”

His torch has been paid for by Warwickshire County Council, but Lucas is inviting donations from friends and colleagues for Cancer Research who have their photo taken with it.

The torch was nonetheless a heavy burden, even to someone used to flinging frisbees and smashing shuttlecocks. But Lucas found the best way to lighten the load.

Mr Hillson said: “I’m not sure if I’ve ever waved so much. Not only did I get to wave to people on both sides of the road but it’s a good excuse to give your other hand a rest.”

REPRESENTING a generation of parents and helpers. Marion Childs ran the first leg of the relay in Coventry on Sunday.

Nominated by Southam mother Lindy Smales, she set up Southam Gymnastics with fellow Southam mother Lorna Dixon for children in the town, taking coaching qualifications to ensure it could still run.

She also became active in 4th Southam Brownies, and followed her daughter Stephanie’s sporting progress to help and Leamington Cycling and Athletics Club.

On the day of the relay, the two had to travel from Solihull, where Stephanie, 26, (pictured with Marion below) was competing in the hurdles and long jump.

For Mrs Childs, the people who help run sports for young people are as important as sport itself.

She said: “Sport is such a grounding for young people, their health, their future and their achievement. It helps build their confidence and self-esteem.

“Clubs can’t run without volunteers. I felt I was carrying that torch for many, many others because I’m well aware that there are people who do more than me.”