In the run up to the London 2012 Opening ceremony, we follow longtime fundraiser and barefoot torchbearer John McBride’s journey, from being nominated as a torchbearer, to his return to Korogocho to pass on his own Olympic legacy.
Another day at the office, another million emails to plough through and disregard, but one caught my eye. Not from one of my regular correspondents, but from the London Olympic Organising Committee.
“You have been nominated to take part in the Olympic Torch relay leading up to the 2012 Games.” Reading quickly through the message it said that I’d been put in for this by Debbie Wainwright at CAFOD, as a result of my fundraising efforts at the Great North Run and the work I’ve done in local schools and parishes in the North East helping people to understand how poverty impacts on people overseas.
I’d also acquired a little local fame by my habit of running the last mile of the Great North Run in bare feet. What seemed like a painful little quirk to the crowds and the cameras always gave me a chance to explain why I did it: as a symbol of solidarity with the children I had met in the slum of Korogocho in Kenya, the constant inspiration for my fundraising work. Debbie at CAFOD clearly thought my barefoot running deserved a bigger stage.
At that stage, no-one knew much about the Torch Relay, except that a few thousand people were going to carry identical 2 foot aluminium sticks around the country once the Olympic flame arrived from Greece. Tens of thousands of people were being nominated by local charities, schools, businesses and sports clubs to be torchbearers. Some people were applying through competitions run by Coca-Cola and other sponsors, and of course – as we now know – some were being invited to carry the torch because of the cash they’d handed over to the organisers or their celebrity status. So while I was more than a little surprised that CAFOD had nominated me, I didn’t have my hopes up that I’d end up being chosen.
But sure enough, come March, I received another email from the Committee, this one saying that I’d been chosen to carry the Olympic Torch in Barnard Castle near Durham on 20th June. Cue disbelief as I was told my nomination had got through a random ballot, then gone before a panel and they had decided that it was good enough to be given the job!
Shortly after, another email arrived asking if I’d like to buy “my” Torch? I called up the CAFOD office and said that I wasn’t interested in keeping the Torch on my mantelpiece, but if they wanted it, perhaps it could go on the reception desk at Romero House. They came back with a better idea…How would you like to take the Torch back to Korogocho, John? Suddenly the sights, sounds and smells of Korogocho came flooding back to me….