FAIR POINT: Ben - you’re our Olympic golden boy

editorial image
Have your say

Seb Coe won’t have minded one bit.

Olympic gold medallist, deservedly crowned champion of London’s successful bid for the Games, Sheffield-raised and a Lord to boot, he basked in glory as he ran through his home city carrying that symbolic flame on Monday.

But he was just a mere pace-setter for the real star of South Yorkshire’s Olympic torch relay.

The day after Seb set Sheffield’s cauldron alight, Ben Parkinson, the most inspirational of men, set Doncaster ablaze with pride.

The town centre was deluged with crowds hollering their support for Paratrooper Lance Bombardier Ben, 27, the most injured British soldier to survive the Afghanistan war - the young man who has come to epitomise true Yorkshire grit.

For many, it was the bearer, rather than the torch itself, that mattered the most.

For me, without a shadow of a doubt, of all the worthy people chosen to carry that small but so heartening lick of flame during its UK journey, head and shoulders above them was Ben.

He has the spirit of a true Olympian.

Six years ago the handsome, supremely fit man of just 21 had been reduced to battered, bloodied flesh and bone by a land mine in Helmand Province.

He was barely alive; his 40 injuries had cost him both his limbs and broken his back, hips and ribs.

Medics thought he would die and that even if he survived, his quality of life would be unbearably poor for a man who had once been the very essence of a vital, rugged soldier. His family sat by his bedside for three months, willing him back to consciousness.

Then Ben did the rest.

While so many would have sunk into despair and allowed bitterness become their fuel, he was simply overjoyed to be alive. He set his Para’s cap at getting his life back, forcing his body to do the things it had before.

Carrying the Olympic torch? He trained for months with extraordinary dedication to be able to walk those vital 300 metres without crutches. The torch slung around his neck, he balanced on the arm of his trusty physio and stopped only once - to relight the flame.

It took him 20 minutes and every step was achieved with a look of such pride on his face, it made grown men weep at the roadside.

“He said he could do it, so we knew he would. He achieves everything he says he will,” said his mother, Diane Dernie, kissing him at the handover point.

Ben’s words were typically modest, though: the exhausted town hero grinned and said: “It was nothing - just another walk. All these people - they helped me along.”

Pure Olympic gold.