Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Emotional scenes as war hero Ben Parkinson carries the Olympic torch in home town after learning to walk again on artificial limbs

•Paratrooper Ben Parkinson lost both legs and suffered brain injuries after driving over a mine in Afghanistan
•He had major surgery on shattered spine and had prosthetic legs fitted
•Spent three months unconscious in military hospital
•But he refused to use his crutches to carry the torch
•Thousands cheer him on in the most inspiring moment of the relay so far
•Fellow paratroopers travel from Colchester to show their support
•After completing the challenge, he said: 'It was nothing - just another walk.'

By Emma Clark

The most seriously wounded soldier to survive the war in Afghanistan was cheered on by an emotional crowd when he carried the Olympic Torch through his home town of Doncaster without the aid of crutches today.

Courageous Paratrooper Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, 27, held his head high as he managed a challenging 300m of the relay from Doncaster’s Cenotaph on his prosthetic legs.

L/Bdr Parkinson, who lost both legs and suffered appalling brain and back injuries when his Land Rover hit a mine in 2006, was applauded by thousands of supporters along the route.

Thousands of people lined the streets of Doncaster to show their support to the most wounded soldier to return from Afghanistan on day 39 of the torch relay

Determination: Brave paratrooper Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, 27, completed his part in the relay without his crutches, with the aid of an assistant

Fifty of his fellow paratroopers from the 7th Parachute Royal Horse Artillery unit marched behind him after travelling from Colchester, Essex, to show their admiration for his incredible achievement.

His mother Diane Dernie watched with tears in her eyes alongside the former soldier's stepfather Andy.

Starting just after 11am, the determined young man made steady progress along the route, stopping only once to re-light the flame.

'It's the proudest moment of my life,' said his mother, kissing him at the handover point. 'We knew Ben would complete the route. He's so determined.

Optimistic: Despite having lost his legs, L/Bdr Parkinson completed his part of the relay without crutches, after training for weeks with physiotherapist Robert Shepherd, right before the walk

Proud paratroopers from Ben's regiment, the 7th Parachute Royal Horse Artillery unit, supported him all the way

Inspirational: L/Bdr Parkinson was backed by his mother Diane Dernie and stepfather Andy, left, and by message of support from the people of Doncaster, which lined his route. Right, a sign outside a pub

'He said he could do it, so we knew he would do it. He has taken every one of his challenges and beaten them.'

L/Bdr Parkinson has come a long way since suffering close to 40 injuries in the explosion in Helmand Province and spending three months unconscious in military hospital.

He had to learn to walk on prosthetic legs and undergo major surgery to fix his shattered spine and teach himself to talk once more.

His mother added: ‘The whole purpose of this was to show everyone what he can do.
‘It's been such a spur for him, he's had to work so hard. He's had this practice torch made and he's been pounding the streets.

‘He's doing brilliantly. Even a few months ago we didn't know if he'd be able to do it without crutches but he's cracked it and he's been doing about 500m up and down the area.

'This town has been such a wonderful place for Ben. Whatever he does, Doncaster's behind him.

‘It's so important to Ben because this is his chance to prove what he can do, to thank everybody in Doncaster because he's had such fantastic support locally.’

Speaking after he handed over the flame, which he carried in a white sling around his neck, the exhausted but grinning 27-year-old said: 'It was nothing - just another walk.

‘I am very proud. All these people helped me along.'

Major Dave Walker from the regiment said: 'I think anyone here would have crawled over broken glass, quite frankly, to come and show Ben our support.

'Everyone in the regiment is tremendously proud of the progress that he's made against incredible adversity.

'We're immensely proud of the physical and mental courage he shows in overcoming major injuries. It's nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Triumph: Exhausted but delighted L/Bdr Parkinson hands the flame over to Diane Swanson for the next leg of the relay

'We're here to support Ben. The regiment is a wider family than just its serving members. We are here to show Ben that he is still part of that family.'

Sergeant Adam Colin, who served with L/Bdr Parkinson for many years, including in Afghanistan, added: 'We're just here to show our support to Ben - cheer him on and show how fantastically well he's done and is doing.

'We're very, very proud of him so we're here to give our big support to him and just let him know we'll always be there for him.'

Lord Coe returned to his beloved Sheffield to proudly lift the Olympics flame

People of all ages turned out in the beaming sunshine to cheer L/Bdr Parkinson on, with schoolchildren chanting 'Come on, Ben', while others waved flags, whistled and cheered as he passed by.

L/Bdr Parkinson celebrated afterwards with family and close friends at his home in Doncaster.

A sign at displayed outside a pub along the route read: 'Thank you Ben, you make us proud'.

His physio Robert 'Shep' Shepherd said they had practised the walk about six times in preparation, and admitted it was a mammoth task.

He said: 'He has just completed an incredible feat.

'For Ben, this isn't the same as walking the distance as someone else. It's the equivalent to walking with three times the amount of his weight on his back.

'We started training about seven weeks ago, and Ben does physio about 15 hours a week.

'I'm so proud of him.'

Last night Olympic gold medallist Lord Coe returned to his home city of Sheffield to carry the Olympic flame.

Once again in his career he felt the joy of the crowds as the 1,500m double gold medallist and chairman of the London 2012 organising committee completed his turn at a 300m leg through the city centre.

He spoke affectionately about his Sheffield, which he said was 'very close to his heart', as people gathered to take photos of him after he was dropped off by the relay bus.

Thousands of excited wellwishers gathered to greet and cheer on Lord Coe, who led the bid to host the Games this summer

Lord Coe said: ‘I'm just very, very flattered, very honoured. There's nowhere else I'd rather be in the world than here with this torch today in Sheffield.

‘Just having sat on the coach with 20 extraordinary people all telling their own personal stories of why they got nominated and some of the things they've done and been through - it's just extraordinary.'

With just 31 days to go until the start of the Games, the chairman was delighted to take time out of his schedule to take part in the relay.

He continued: ‘To me personally this is a massive day because it's the city I was brought up in.

‘Everything that really mattered in my athletics career took place in this city.

‘My coaches, my local athletics club, my inspiration to even join the athletics club was from two competitors in this city - John and Sheila Sherwood, who won medals in the 1968 Olympic Games.

‘This is a city which is very close to my heart.’

As he waited for his turn to carry the torch, one well-wisher said, ‘Thanks for doing all this for us’.

Earlier in the day, Lord Coe accompanied the flame when it visited patients at Sheffield Children's Hospital in a lantern, joined by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

He also made a surprise visit to his former secondary school Tapton Secondary School in Ranmoor, where he joined in with celebrations for sports day.

Lord Coe said 'everything that mattered' in his sporting career happened in Sheffield, pictured

A jubilant Sebastian Coe, pictured in the centre, wins the mens 1500 metres final at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow for Great Britain

He took along his old PE teacher, John O'Keeffe, 73, who helped him get where he is today.

Headteacher David Bowes described the visit as a ‘great honour’.

Sebastian Coe won four Olympic medals, including the 1500m gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984. He also set eight outdoor and three indoor world records in middle distance track events.

Lord Sebastian Coe and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg joined the Olympic Flame when it stopped off at Sheffield Children's Hospital

Thousands of people greeted the flame on its way into the city at a community event in Hillsborough Park, while thousands more gathered for a celebration event in the city centre.

Yesterday the torch started day 38 of its journey round the UK in Leeds, where it was carried by Steven Tomlinson, the 14-year-old son of late inspirational fundraiser Jane Tomlinson.

His mother, who died from cancer in 2007 at the age of 43, inspired thousands of people as she defied experts and spent seven years raising more than £1.8 million in a series of endurance challenges.

Leeds City Council estimated 200,000 people came out to see the torch in its three days in the city, which had 'seen nothing like it'.



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