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.
It was a long wait until the afternoon of Wednesday 20th June, especially knowing I’d be going back to Korogocho afterwards.
The 8 Torchbearers for the Barnard Castle area met in a school hall and I was keen to catch a word with one of the organizers. I explained I’d done some barefoot running to get sponsorship for CAFOD before and it’s featured in some publicity, so I just want to check that it’s ok to run barefoot with the Torch.
The answer is a firm no – you’ve got an official tracksuit, plain trainers, that’s the uniform, no deviations allowed. So I had a word with someone else but got the same result. A different person but the same answer. This is not good. I called Sophie Bradley in the media office at CAFOD and let her know. Should I kick off my shoes as I get the Olympic Flame but risk being taken out of the relay? Should I take off the shoes with a few yards to go before I pass the Flame on? Should I just fall in with the organizers? Sophie was great, saying do whatever feels right to you – just enjoy the run – we all know who you’re really running for, and so do all the CAFOD supporters, whether you’re barefoot or not.
The 8 of us got onto the brightly coloured bus to drop each of us off at the starting point for our run and for the first time I got to hold “my” Olympic Torch. I had 8 or 9 minutes until the Flame was due to reach me. My family were at the start point and after many photos with them, the professional photographer who knows my story asked me to take off my shoes for a photo or two before the Flame arrived. One of the Police team who runs alongside the relay to protect the Flame came across and asked why I’d taken my trainers off. I explained – for the 1,000th time in my life – that I run barefoot in solidarity with kids who have no shoes in Kenya, and he gave me a sympathetic smile. I knew then that he wasn’t going to drag me out of the Relay, and my trainers stayed off.
A minute later the Flame approached with Richard, who I’d last seen on the bus, and our Torches touched. The Flame took hold and I was alone in the world, the only person carrying the Olympic Flame at that moment. After a short look about me to take in what was happening, I started running. There was to be no quick end to my Olympic Torch Relay and I ran with memories of the people I had met in Kenya, of people who had brought me to this point and of the thousands of CAFOD supporters for whom I was carrying this Torch.
All too quickly, I passed the Flame on and I was back at the school then driving home.
For some people, this was it, the highlight the job well done, but for me there was even greater things still to come. On Thursday, I went to my local school, St. Patrick’s Primary, where I’d recently done a placement for my Teaching Assistant course. The children had been making Olympic themed models and one was of the Torch. They were thrilled when I said I’d bring the real thing in. A full school assembly with hundreds of photos and beaming smiles, but the best thing was that the children had brought in about 70 pairs of trainers they no longer used which they hoped would find new owners in Korogocho.
Next it was off to catch the train to London to meet Sophie, then Heathrow airport. The check-in staff had to ask what was in that long bag I was carrying. More photos, more smiles. At the currency exchange, “What country are you going to?” I explained my hand luggage. More photos, more smiles. At the boarding gate was Bill from check-in. More photos, more smiles and more to come in Kenya….