City’s Olympic stars

Hallam Union sports officer Colan Leung, student Stephen Birkby, head of sport services at Sheffield Hallam, Dan Porter.
Hallam Union sports officer Colan Leung, student Stephen Birkby, head of sport services at Sheffield Hallam, Dan Porter.

THEY have inspired others – and now they are to take pride of place when the Olympic torch comes to Sheffield.

The names of some of the torchbearers who will carry the Olympic torch through the city on June 25 were announced this week.

Carys Hall

Carys Hall

They include John Burkhill, ‘The Mad Man with the Pram’, who has been raising money for cancer research for 20 years.

He started fundraising after wife June and daughter Karen died from cancer within months of each other and has become a familiar figure with his pram and green wig. He was nominated by Rob Turner, fundraising manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, and more than 1,300 people signed an online petition in support.

John said: “I am not ashamed to say I cried when I found out not because I was sad but tears of happiness that an ordinary 73-year-old born and bred Sheffielder like me could be chosen.”

Another torchbearer will be poet and writer Debjani Chatterjee, aged 59, who works in schools, community centres, libraries and hospitals. She said that carrying the Olympic flame would be a chance to represent all of the community groups she has worked with.

James Needham, Debjani Chatterjee and Simon Green

James Needham, Debjani Chatterjee and Simon Green

Carys Hall, aged 19, of Gleadless Valley, was nominated by the council for her involvement with Sheffield Academy of Young Leaders.

Council executive director Simon Green said: “Carys has given up so much of her time to volunteer at sporting events over the last five years and now acts as a mentor for other young people who want to get into working in sport. She has such enthusiasm and passion for sport in Sheffield.”

GB wheelchair rugby player James Needham, aged 28, who was confined to a wheelchair following a car accident at the age of seven, said it was “a huge honour to have been selected”. He visits spinal units teaching wheelchair skills and helping newly injured people.

Three inspirational sporting champions have been selected by Sheffield Hallam University.

John Burkhill  finishes his  510mile   walk for Macmillan Cancer  Support at 72.

John Burkhill finishes his 510mile walk for Macmillan Cancer Support at 72.

Student Stephen Birkby, who plays for wheelchair basketball team Sheffield Steelers, was told he would never walk again because of a spinal injury in 2003 and lost a leg to cancer in 2007. Now he can walk with a prosthetic leg and is an organiser of disabled sports at the university.

Hallam Union sports officer Colan Leung is described as “a great ambassador, committed sportsman and outstanding character who is always willing to go that extra mile to get more people participating in sport”.

Head of sport services Dan Porter, a former Sheffield rugby union captain who lost an eye to cancer seven years ago, set up a charitable foundation to help cancer patients and others who require neurological surgery. It has raised money for Weston Park Cancer Charity and Royal Hallamshire-based Neurocare.

Dr Elspeth Whitby, of the University of Sheffield’s Medical School, is a successful doctor who has helped to develop an MRI service for women who have problems with their pregnancy and also for newborn babies.

Elspeth Whitby

Elspeth Whitby

She encourages junior staff and students and, in one instance, she helped a student to complete her PhD whilst being treated for cancer, including putting her up in her own home when she was really ill. When the student died before her PhD, Elspeth persuaded the university to award it posthumously.

The mother-of-two, nominated by university radiographer Jane Morris, is a governor at two schools, runs an after-school club, volunteers at guides and brownies, organises street parties, is a member of a Rapper Sword Dancing Group and is a keen athlete.