Carrying Paralympic torch was so ‘wicked’

Luke Biggs

Ann Gresswell

Prof Stephen Hawking

First published in News Banbury Cake: Photograph of the Author by

PARALYMPIC torchbearers from Oxfordshire said the part they played in the flame procession will stay with them forever.

Abingdon schoolboy Luke Biggs, 15, ran with the torch through central London and said the experience had been “beyond words”.

The John Mason pupil said: “It was wicked, It felt as though the weight of the world was on my shoulders as I ran with it.

“Oxford Circus was absolutely heaving when we went past, it was absolutely crazy.

“So many members of my family were there.”

Luke was born with Total Hirschsprungs disease and has spent much of his life in hospital, undergoing two bowel transplants.

He added: “It would be amazing to take the torch into school, but I don’t want to lose it. It’s irreplaceable so I think we’ll hang it somewhere.”

His mum Karen said: “It was amazing, incredible. You can’t describe it in words really.

“We were very, very proud. In places, the crowds were 15 people deep.”

The 24-hour torch relay made its way from Stoke Mandeville Hospital, in Buckinghamshire, to London in time for Wednesday’s opening ceremony.

Ann Gresswell, from Wytham, carried the torch through the City of London late on Wednesday afternoon.

She said: “It was great, I’m still buzzing now.

“As we travelled through London, people could see the torches on the bus through the windows and they were smiling and waving flags at us.

“My grandchildren came along, with some people from Wytham and friends from the swimming club so it was a wonderful day.”

Mrs Gresswell has spent more than 30 years helping disabled people learn to swim with the Oxford Swans Swimming Club.

She said: “When we came back to Wytham I took it along to the local pub, the White Hart, as people wanted to have their pictures taken with it. I think I’ll take it into some of the schools. People have asked if they can make a donation to have their pictures taken, so that will all go to the swimming club.”

And of the opening ceremony, which she has recorded, Mrs Gresswell added: “It’s fantastic. It’s really inspiring to see.

“Stephen Hawking was the patron of an Oxford charity I was involved in, the ACE Centre, so it was great to see him so heavily involved.”

The ACE Centre in Windmill Road has provided support for children and adults with communication difficulties for more than 30 years.

Dave Bracher, from Didcot, carried the torch through Harrow in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

In 2008 he was left in a wheelchair after being struck by a rare combination of two illnesses – Guillain Barre Syndrome and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis.

He said: “It was a fantastic experience to be part of the relay.

“It was really quite something to be a patient at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. The emphasis they have on sports there helped me to recover mentally.”

The Paralympic Games ceremony kicked off 11 days of sport on Wednesday evening.

Oxford-born Prof Hawking played a lead role.

Watched by an estimated billion people, the former Oxford University student told the world: “Don’t look down at your feet, look up at the stars.”

Athletes taking part in the games include former Headington School pupil Lily van den Broecke, Oxford-born fencer Gemma Collis and horserider Natasha Baker, who trains in Milton-under-Wychwood.

An event on Sunday aims to make people more aware of the need for equality for disabled people. The Parade for Equality, a social event at the Oxford University Sports Centre in Iffley Road, will run from 11am-1.30pm.

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