Vale sports heroes chosen as Sochi torch-bearers

Gemma Collis and Andy White are off to Russia as torch bearers for the Sochi Paralympic Games

Gemma Collis and Andy White are off to Russia as torch bearers for the Sochi Paralympic Games

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Two young sports heroes from Bucks will be travelling to Russia after being selected as torchbearers for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Torch Relay.

Gemma Collis and Andy White are among four representatives of disability sport in the UK chosen to travel to Russia in March to participate in the relay. Wheelchair fencer Gemma, from Aston Clinton, and wheelchair basketball player Andy, from Aylesbury, were chosen by the Bucks Legacy Board to represent the county and travel to Russia to carry the torch.

Andy, 20, has been involved in disability sport since he was young. He now plays and also volunteers as a coach for local club the Aylesbury Aces, as well as volunteering for wheelchair sport charity WheelPower since 2010.

Gemma, 21, who competed for Paralympics GB at London 2012, developed a rare condition when she was 15 which ended her ambitions in athletics and she took up fencing while at university.

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the pair is in recognition of their contribution to disability sport.

Gemma said of the honour: “It just came out of the blue. I wasn’t expecting it. But the moment I found out about it, I was so excited. It’s just such an honour to represent Buckinghamshire, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement.”

Andy said: “Being selected to go to Russia came as a bit of a shock but I am honoured to have been nominated by WheelPower and also honoured to be selected to go. It will be an experience I will never forget nor will I ever get to do it again.”

The four individuals chosen for Sochi represent different aspects of disability sport from elite, Paralympic sport to grassroots and school sport.

The British Paralympic Association has nominated the other two places: a BPA representative, which will be BPA chairman Tim Reddish; and a young disabled person who has been inspired by London 2012 and who has set an inspirational example to others. This second place has been awarded to 19-year-old student Andrew Norman, a School Ambassador and student at Valence School in Kent who regularly contributes to many areas of school sport and activities, wider community events, regional competitions and cultural performances.

Legacy Board chairman Carl Etholen said: “In Gemma and Andy, we have two fantastic ambassadors for Buckinghamshire. I am delighted they will be representing us in Sochi. Gemma is a Paralympian as well as a former Bucks Sport Young Leader Award winner and a youth sport trust athlete mentor. She is a role model for up and coming young athletes. Meanwhile, Andy is a well-respected volunteer at Stoke Mandeville helping to develop the junior basketball programme. So together, they make the perfect mix.”

The opportunity for Andy and Gemma came from the Bucks Legacy Board. All four torchbearers will be part of the torch relay event in Russia in the build-up to the Winter Paralympic Games which begin next Friday (March 7).

The UK will also play a new and exciting role in the lighting of the Paralympic Torch for the first time this year. In 2013 the IPC announced that Stoke Mandeville will play a role in all future Paralympic Games relays in recognition of Mandeville’s position as the birthplace of the Paralympic movement. As a result, there will be a Flame Festival event, held at Stoke Mandeville tomorrow (Saturday).

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