OLYMPIC TORCH: Proud to carry Olympic torch through Sussex

James Kirby, Eastbourne torchbearer
James Kirby, Eastbourne torchbearer

THERE may only be one local runner carrying the Olympic torch in Eastbourne on Tuesday but the town is well represented elsewhere.

A host of people have been given relay slots in other parts of the county – including one young lad who will take part in Easebourne, near Arundel, after organisers misread his application form.

Max Harffey will make the 90-mile round trip with his family on Tuesday and is determined not to let the mix up ruin his big day.

The sports mad teenager was chosen after judges were won over by the way he recovered from major heart surgery to take up refereeing and now officiates in dozens of junior football games a season.

The Sussex Downs College student, who had a second operation in February, said, “It is great to be one of the people who will get to carry the torch so I can’t complain too much.

“A lot of my friends won’t be able to watch, which is a shame, but it will still be a great experience.”

And his dad is looking forward to the occasion almost as much.

Alan Harffey paid tribute to the medical staff who have helped his son cope with such major health problems.

He said, “He is a testament to the staff of both the Eastbourne and Evelina hospitals and it will be marvellous for them to see their handiwork when he carries the Olympic torch.”

Another inspiring young athlete and close friend of Max’s is also getting ready for his moment to shine.

James Kirby suffered kidney failure at birth and had to spend the majority of his childhood in and out of hospital and unable to take part in sports or physical exercise.

He received a kidney from his mum in 2001 and went on to win four medals at the British Transplant Games before taking part in the World Transplant Games where he won another clutch of medals, including a pair of golds in badminton and table tennis and a silver in tennis.

He has also raised thousands of pounds for the Children’s Transplant Fund at the Evelina Hospital in London where he was treated.

Speaking ahead of his relay leg in Lewes on Tuesday, James’ dad Rupert said, “James is very excited about running with the torch and sees it as a great honour. He is proud to have been chosen and is looking forward to the day.

“Everyone has been very supportive and we have our own Olympic coach travelling over to Lewes for the relay. Family and friends are coming from all over the country to cheer him on.”

James is the first runner in Lewes, leaving from Earwig Corner on A26 at 2.15pm and his dad says he is proud of how far his son has come.

And it will be a special day of celebration for the entire family after James’ brother Myles this week received a 2:1 from the London School of Economics.

But on Tuesday at least, James will be the centre of attention, not just for his family, but for the entire world.

“Two years ago last week James had his second transplant and this week he has started work experience at an accountancy firm and next week runs with the Olympic torch – all of this is possible thanks to the generosity of the donor and their family. We are so very grateful.”

James though is not the only Eastbourne local who is running in the Lewes leg. Nick Webborn works at the local Sportswise centre and has been a key figure in helping disabled athletes take part in sport.

The 55-year-old was paralysed at the age of 24 after suffering a spinal injury during a game of rugby but rather than let his misfortune get him down, he devoted large chunks of both his personal and professional life to helping other people achieve their sporting goals.

Not only has he helped hundreds of athletes to keep going with their chosen sport but he has also played wheelchair tennis internationally and continues to play a role in encouraging those with injury or disability to participate in sport whatever their level.

He has been to seven Paralympic Games on the support staff and will be chief medical officer for the British Paralympic team for the London games.

As his nomination form says, “Nick has shown enormous courage and determination, achieving far more than could ever have been expected following his injury and is an inspiration to others.

“In his life he has embodied the Olympic and Paralympic spirit and it would be fitting if he were chosen to carry the Olympic flame.”

He said, “I am absolutely thrilled to be carrying the torch in Lewes next week. It will be a unique experience and the anticipation has been building over the last few weeks.

“Seeing the huge interest across the nation has been truly inspiring. After 20 years of involvement with the sport, helping Olympic and Paralympic athletes reach their goals, it will be great to carry the flame on their behalf.

“I am sure the people of Sussex will turn out in numbers to support us. I am just very thankful to be given the opportunity and I will be very proud.”

Sue Barber, the Polegate lady who will be carrying the torch in Eastbourne, has been a teaching assistant at Polegate County Primary and also a local Beaver leader with the 1st Polegate Scout Group – both for 20 years.

Sue, 49, was nominated by a friend who says she ‘gives a lot for nothing in return’.

Follow the Olympic Torch relay on-line next Tuesday at www.eastbourneherald.co.uk with reports and pictures as it passes through Eastbourne. You can also send us your photos of the day to olympictorch@jpress.co.uk

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @Eastbournenews for all the latest torch news. If you are tweeting about the torch remember to hashtag it #EastbourneTorch