The Queen’s Baton Relay visited Bury St Edmunds yesterday as part of its international journey to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Batonbearer Lilly Reynolds, an English cricketer from Barton Mills, was greeted at Bury Leisure Centre’s athletics arena by hundreds of excited school children who turned out en masse to witness the historic event.
Pupils from the middle schools were taking part in the annual super 8’s schools athletics competition while the town’s primary school children, who had made their own batons, formed a guard of honour in preparation for Lilly’s arrival.
Lilly, a former Thetford Grammar School pupil, was accompanied by a number of guest athletes as she made her way around the arena, followed by a procession of flags carried by students from local schools.
“It’s such a surreal experience, I can’t quite put it into words,” said Lilly.
“It was a great honour to be selected. I can’t believe I have had the privilege of walking the baton.”
“It shows what the Commonwealth Games is about, bringing everyone together and getting everyone really excited over trying new sports,” she added.
In a speech, The Mayor of St Edmundsbury, Cllr Robert Everitt, said: “In St Edmundsbury we are doing all we can to encourage more people to get active.
“There are sports clubs a plenty, cycling, hockey, football, rugby, boxing, my favourite - squash, gymnastics, swimming and volleyball - the list is endless and we want to help Suffolk fulfil the ambition of being the most active county in England.
“We would love the baton to be the reason someone here today tried a new sport and inspired them on the great sporting journey.”
Paralympic swimmer Rachael Latham was among athletes helping to promote participation in sport at the event.
She stressed the importance of sports in teaching skills of equal importance for people’s working lives, things like ‘time management, setting yourself goals and working towards them and being dedicated to something.’
She said: “This is the first time there’s been a massive sporting occasion on our home turf since London (Summer Olympics) and we all saw how the country got behind London in 2012. If we can do anything like that this year in Glasgow then, hopefully, even more children will take up sport.”
Shot putter Sophie McKinna, British junior indoor and outdoor record holder, said: “I just think it’s amazing for so many younger people to be part of the relay and to see it in person. It can be really inspiring and, hopefully, it will inspire them to take up sports themselves in the future.”
Of the leisure centre’s facilities, Sophie, from Norfolk, said: “I used to compete here when I was young so I love throwing here. I’ve thrown some PBs (personal bests) here before.”
Captain of Great Britain’s sitting volleyball, Claire Harvey, said sports were ‘the foundation for a healthy lifestyle going forward’.
She said athletics events were ‘massively important’ because ‘they give children a chance to try a whole range of sports they might not have tried’ and allow them to find out what they are good at ‘in a no pressure environment’.
She added: “Sport is so much more than physical activity - it’s about team work, it’s about learning to challenge yourself, to keep going and resilience, as well as emotional and self-esteem benefits.
“So, these young people, they’re trying something new, hopefully they’re getting inspiration from the baton and realising that we’re all real people and just through hard work and support we’ve got to where we have and, perhaps, every young person here can achieve their personal best.”
Britain’s greatest ever-female gymnast, Beth Tweddle, also a an Olympic bronze medalist, a triple world champion, a six-time European champion, a Commonwealth champion and seven-times consecutive national champion, said athletics events were fun because you ‘get the afternoon off school’ and ‘get to meet other people from the area’.
As Team England ambassador, she added: “It’s such an amazing opportunity to be here today with the Queen’s Baton Relay and to see so many school kids here.
“You can see the enthusiasm off the back of London 2012 - hopefully that buzz will continue into Glasgow 2014.”
Alison Blackwell, development director of Abbeycroft Leisure, said: “It’s such a privilege that the baton’s been able to come to Bury and for the school children to see it, not just the competing middle schools, but also for the primary schools who waved the baton in which, I think, added some atmosphere to the event.”
The Queen’s Baton Relay was launched at Buckingham Palace on October 9 last year, when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who is Head of the Commonwealth, placed her message to the Commonwealth into the baton.
It then travelled to Asia and onto Oceania, Africa, the Americas (north and south) and the Caribbean before returning to Europe.
It will finish its journey at the opening ceremony of the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on July 23 after covering more than 118,000 miles and visiting 70 nations and territories in 288 days.