WITH the Paralympics now under way, Suffolk can be proud of its part in the build up.
Last Thursday, the Rwandan Paralympic team thanked Bury St Edmunds for the welcome they received and, as their final engagement, joined the county on Friday in welcoming the Paralympic flame.
The Rwandans’ seated volleyball team, athletes and a weight lifter had used Bury Leisure Centre since August 13 for their pre-games training.
Their sitting volleyball national coach Jean Marie Nsengiyumva said at a farewell party at Bury’s Theatre Royal: “It has been a very good opportunity to acclimatise our players.”
He added: “I will always remember the hospitality of the Bury St Edmunds community.”
Dominique Bizimana, a volleyball player and president of Rwanda’s Paralympic Association, said: “The people are very friendly and were interested in a team from Africa. I’m used to travelling and everyone greeting you is not normal in Europe.”
Warren Smythe, chief executive of Abbeycroft Leisure, who run the leisure centre, told them: “You have been an unbelievable group to work with, true ambassadors for your country.”
Dr Simon Lovegrove, of Bury’s Victoria Surgery, who was the team doctor during the stay, said: “They’re very humbling to look after because they have all been so amazing in how they’ve overcome their particular challenge and tragedy.
“They’ve used sport to such a positive end.”
On Friday the team took part in the civic reception for the Paralympic flame at Needham Market and a parade round the town with British Paralympians past and present.
The reception at Mid Suffolk Council’s offices saw council chairman and mayors from all over Suffolk mingling with Paralympians, Olympic torch bearers and volunteers to welcome the Paralympic flame to the county.
Beacons had been lit on the highest peaks in the UK then flames from each beacon went out into that country.
Suffolk’s Paralympic Flame ambassador was artist Amy Nettleton, from Great Finborough, who plays wheelchair basketball with Bury Bombers, Eastern Blue Stars and the Aspire Stars. .
“It was quite nerve wracking, a huge responsibility” she said. “I didn’t realise how big a responsibility until they handed over this delicate flame.”
Among those greeting her was Kevin Curtis, a patron of the disabled opportunities charity Optua and a sailing gold medallist at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Paralympics.
He pointed out how few Paralympic medalists there are compared to Olympic medallists. In sailing, for example, there are only three classes compared to 10 in the Olympics.
Optua has set up a Suffolk Sports Academy to encourage sports but he stressed the need for funding. “Once you win a gold medal you get the money, but you really need it beforehand,” he said.
He and Bury Paralympic medalist Brian Alldis carried the flame in the evening parade. Brian advised those competing: “Stay cool and don’t worry about the pressure – it’s good for you.”
On Sunday, the flame went to Bury Leisure Centre during its disability sports celebration. People were able to have their photograph taken with it and to try disabled sports, including wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball.
The next day, Brian and the flame, with the Bury Bombers and Olympic torch bearer Mina Welsh, went to Bury’s Moyse’s Hall Museum where the flame was displayed in the Lap of Honour exhibition about Suffolk Olympians and Paralympians.