Today, it was Renfrewshire’s turn to host the Queen’s Baton Relay, with the baton travelling through the likes of Lochwinnoch and Bishopton, in the safe hands of actors, Commonwealth athletes, and my good friend, Helen Rice. Helen has a wonderful story of obstacles, recovery and dedication: a story that continued to inspire me throughout my challenge as I trained and ran by Helen’s side. She is a person of true determination and extraordinary optimism, and I was delighted to watch her carry the baton through the streets of Elderslie as a message of hope and inspiration to all those facing hurdles of their own.
Later, over a celebratory bottle of squash, I shoved a mic in Helen’s still somewhat dazed face and asked her some questions.
Firstly, how does it feel to be a batonbearer?
Oh, it’s very hard to put into words! There was a fantastic atmosphere today and I just suddenly felt really part of something much bigger. It’s great, just great!
For those who don’t already know your story, tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a 37 year old woman and Paisley resident with various health conditions, the main one being Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – a genetic condition that causes faulty collagen production and this leads to various problems including painful joints, stretched ligaments and skin that doesn’t heal normally. This condition was only diagnosed a few years ago so I had many years of feeling ill without being sure what the cause was.
Once I was diagnosed I began doing the right kind of physiotherapy and then gradually increased my physical activity month by month. I entered my first sporting event since school last September when I did a sprint triathlon. Since then I have completed three 10 km events in Glasgow and took part in the Edinburgh Marathon Hairy Haggis relay in May this year.
Why were you nominated to be a batonbearer?
I was nominated by friends from my knitting group. They were impressed that I completed my first triathlon last year for the Glasgow Tri-Together Triathlon and raised over £1500 for Leonard Cheshire Disability.
Why is this experience so important for you?
I will always have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome so doing exercise is always going to be challenging for me, however I’m absolutely convinced that being more physically active has done me the power of good, both physically and mentally. In autumn 2013, I received the award of ‘Self Management Champion of the Year’ at the Scottish Parliament from The Health and Social Care Alliance, in recognition of my promoting self management as a tool for improving life with a long term condition.
Carrying the baton is another marker for me in what has been a sometimes very difficult journey towards living positively with this condition, and I hope it demonstrates to others what is possible with the right support.
Do you think the baton relay has been good for your community?
I think it’s helped more people to feel closer to the Games and has brought the Games right past people’s doorsteps, rather than feeling as though it’s just in the centre of Glasgow.
Did a lot of people turn out to see you?
Loads more people, yeah, along the route than we’d expected. The group of us that was travelling together in the bus was worried, saying, ‘what if nobody’s there, what if nobody’s come out?”. Then as we came along the route and just saw more and more people, it was fantastic!
Did the weather play fair for you today?
It was great weather. Not raining equals good! I’m really, really pleased with that.
What would you say to the people who nominated you?
Thank you very much. It has been a real privilege so thank you.