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.
Back In Fr. Weebotsa’s yard on Sunday and we joined what I thought would be about 100 others at Mass. It was actually the start of a procession through the streets, gathering people as we went. A choir was singing like angels, and when I closed my eyes it would have been easy to think we were in Heaven. But on opening them the truth of life in the slum hit even harder.
We got to the arena at St. John’s where Mass was to be said. There were easily over 1,000 people there before the drummers and dancers on stage. I was asked to take part in the offertory procession and was handed a bag of maize flour. Others had bags of sugar, some had huge cabbages. All were presented at the altar and held aloft for everyone to see.
After 3 hours, the Mass was over and I was asked to address the congregation. I explained why I was there and everyone was reminded of the mini-Olympics to be held later.
Then Fr. Weebotsa said that we were going to take the Torch out to visit the 9 “villages” that make up Koch. I took the Torch and ran out with a crowd of about 50 young people from St. John’s.
This being Kenya and these all being fit young Kenyans, they set quite a pace. I was struggling to keep up in the heat, but the singing and chanting of the crowds helped.
After about half a mile came the first of a hundred handovers of the Torch.
A large man was standing at the side of the road, and beckoned me over to let him hold the Torch. It was all so different to a couple of days before in Durham. No manicured lawns here, no Coca-Cola-sponsored bus. Just me, a Torch and an eager crowd. And just like the staff at Heathrow, every face had a beaming smile; everyone wanted a photo; everyone wanted their small part of the Olympic Games.
I reached out my hand, the Torch was taken, and passed from one friend to the next – a symbol of peace and unity just like CAFOD’s Pass It On celebration of the Olympic Truce.
At that moment, I realised that it had never been “my” Torch, any more than it could ever be Coca Cola’s Olympics.
This Torch is bigger than any company, bigger than any one City, and now it will stay in the St John’s gym, hopefully inspiring every young Kenyan who touches it to reach for their full potential, not just in sport but in all aspects of life. That is the Olympic dream, and a fitting end for my Olympic Journey.