As the Jubilee weekend approaches the nation’s eyes are already moving towards London and the Queen. And – whether you are a monarchist or a republican – it’s hard to deny that presiding over the tumultous changes of the last 60 years while retaining her undoubted personal popularity is a remarkable achievement by our head of state.
But even as the pomp and pageantry is prepared in the capital, we shouldn’t forget another event which is unfolding across the whole of the country – the carrying of the Olympic Torch. This is an event which spotlights the achievements of a huge range of the country’s population, irrespective of their birth or background. That’s why at 4pm today, many people in United Response will be cheering on 39 year old James Hughes from Liverpool, as he grasps the torch and takes it further on its record-breaking journey.
When the Olympics announced last year that they were looking for “local heroes” to carry the torch, we campaigned for as many disabled people as possible to be included, and the Olympics have lived up to our expectations. James has been blind from birth and has severe learning disabilities, but this has never stopped him pursuing his dreams. In his life, James has completed an astonishing 43 marathons and raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity. He was nominated for the torch-carrying honour by members of the local community, who have been inspired by his courageous attitude to life.
James ran his first marathon in 1999 and since then there has been no stopping him. James receives support through United Response’s Shared Lives scheme, run by the national disability charity, United Response. John Courtney, aged 74, has been James’ Shared Lives carer since James turned 14, and now runs alongside him. John says “James is an example to all of us of what can be achieved. He doesn’t dwell on his difficulties. He is using his life to do something very positive. It’s an honour to know him and to run with him.”
This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment for James and John, a recognition of all that they have achieved in and for their community. But even after the Olympics and Paralympics have left these shores, they – and thousands like them – will continue to achieve remarkable things against the odds. That’s truly worth celebrating, not just this year but every year.
Jaime Gill, head of press and public affairs