Transplant teen becomes Olympic Torch carrier

James Kirby, torch carrier
James Kirby, torch carrier

The lucky people chosen to carry the Olympic Torch through the streets have been named – and they include a teenager who has battled adversity to take part in the World Transplant Games.

Organisers of the forthcoming London Games had remained tight-lipped on both the route the torch would take and who would get to hold it on it ways round the UK.

But this week details of its Eastbourne visit were revealed for the first time and preparations are now well underway to make the July 17 visit go off with a bang.

Among those charged with making sure the torch gets round safely is young James Kirby. The 18-year-old has twice had to undergo lifesaving transplants but has battled back to become an inspirational local runner and fundraiser and will help carry the torch round Lewes.

Having suffered kidney failure at birth, James spent much of his childhood in and out of hospital and as youngster he was unable to join in PE lessons at school. In 2001 he received a kidney from his mum Lisa and went on to scoop four medals a the British Transplant Games. After that success James was selected to take part in the World Transplant Games where he won a another clutch of medals including two golds in badminton and table tennis, a silver in tennis and a bronze in ball throw.

His Dad Rupert Kirby told the Herald, “James is very excited and we’re very proud. We were told about a little while ago but sworn to secrecy!

“It’s particularly nice because he was nominated by Janice Kesper his year tutor at Cavendish School. And the students helped James to get to the World Transplant Games in 2007 where he came away with seven medals.”

James has also raised thousands of pounds for the Children’s Transplant Fund at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London which helped treat him.

A second transplant was later needed but, just eight weeks after surgery, James was back pounding the streets in a charity run.

As well as his raft of medals and prizes, the teenager was given an Eastbourne Achiever award and is regularly praised for his determination and willingness to put himself out for others despite his disadvantages. That charitable approach to life is mirrored in another of the torchbearers. Sue O’Hara set up the Tuesday O’Hara Fund in memory of her daughter, who died in 2007 after a four-year battle with leukaemia.

Since then the charity has raised money to help cancer sufferers who are struggling financially as well as stockpiling cash for a mooted ward at the DGH to make it more comfortable for cancer patients aged between 18 and 30.

Reacting to the news, Sue said, “I am so proud and excited. I am really not a runner so I have been out jogging and speed walking to get ready.

“It will be bitter sweet because I would have loved Tuesday and Frank (Sue’s late husband) to see me doing it. Tuesday would have loved it. She was training to be a sports coach before she got ill and she probably would have been quite jealous that I was getting to carry it despite the fact I am no sporty at all. I joined Rosemary Connelly last night because I want to lose some weight before the run. When we were told they asked us what size tracksuit we would like and I asked for a size smaller to give me something to aim for.”

Surprisingly, none of the other runners pencilled in for the Eastbourne leg are actually from the town itself, although Kate Steer is making the relatively short trip from nearby Seaford and some are coming from others parts of Sussex, like Haywards Heath and Lewes.

One such visitor is Gavin Owen – a 38-year-old from Brighton. He was chosen on the back of his charity fundraising and he also helps organise the popular Pride festival, something he has done for a decade.

He said, “This year I am again training for the 2011 Brighton Marathon, to raise money for the Martlets Hospice. My goals and dreams in life are to make people happy by helping them out.”

Polegate’s Sue Barber has also been given a slot on the local leg.

And in keeping with the international flavour of the Games there are three Germans carrying the torch along the Sunshine Coast.

Gustvao Möller-Hergt, of Eversberg, and Marcel Tully, of Schweinfurt, and Michael Peuckert will all be in Eastbourne to lend a hand.

However, anyone thinking Eastbourne people have been short changed should think again. They might not be joining in locally but there are runners heading to other towns to take part.

Andrew Palmer lives here in Eastbourne but will join the relay in his hometown of Nottingham. There he set up a project to tackle gun crime, coached thousands of children and young adults in a range of sports and mentored at an inner city school, helping staff set up sports clubs and teams for the pupils.

And last but not least, Sussex Downs College lecturer Keith Leech, who will be joining in the fun in his hometown of Hastings, where he has spent years helping to organise the local bonfire night celebrations.

Speaking after hearing the news he said, “I am very fortunate to have the chance - it’s a humbling experience. I just feel sorry for those who missed out.”

Have we missed anyone out? Maybe you are from Eastbourne but carrying the torch elsewhere? Email us at eastbourne.herald@trbeckett.co.uk.