Elaine takes torch role in her stride

The first leg of the Olympic torch relay in Kettering at the junction of Pytchley Road and Bryant Road, with torchbearer Elaine O' Sullivan
The first leg of the Olympic torch relay in Kettering at the junction of Pytchley Road and Bryant Road, with torchbearer Elaine O' Sullivan

An inspirational woman who only started running four years ago at the age of 48 to meet people reached the pinnacle of her athletics career this week after carrying the world’s most icnonic flame.

Elaine O’Sullivan, 53, of Linden Avenue, Higham Ferrers, described being the first person to carry the Olympic Torch through Kettering as one of her best-ever achievements.

Now a dedicated runner on an intricate training programme, Elaine only started jogging just before her half-century to meet people after moving to Higham Ferrers, but has since run in three London Marathons as well as represented her country in athletics.

Reflecting on Monday’s relay, a delighted Miss O’ Sullivan, nicknamed “pocket rocket” by friends, said: “It was a surreal day.

“It was very, very emotional.

“Seeing people I knew while running with the torch brought a tear to my eye.

“It was such an honour to be asked and I have to give a big thank you for being selected to be part of the day.

“I’ll never forget it.”

The mum-of-two is a catering manager at Wellingborough School, and was nominated by her daugher Shannon, 17, last year, who wrote to Coca Cola.

She carried the torch downPytchley Road forfour minutes as the torch made its entrance into the town.

She said: “I had to wait around for a few minutes near the crowd until the torch arrived, and when it was lit, I thought ‘here we go’.

“I started off with the biggest smile on my face, I couldn’t stop smiling as I ran.

“The crowds were incredible. Even on the way to Kettering, while I was on the bus, people were screaming and cheering at us.

“I had all my family and friends in the crowd, as well as runners from the atheltics club.

“They called it the best moment of their lives.”

Swift Elaine posted her best time in the 2012 London Marathon, an achievement she ranks alongside Monday’s relay.

She has also run for Great Britain in her over-50s age category, winning a silver in Belguim in the European Masters in cross country last year.

Not bad for someone who only took up running for social reasons.

She revealed: “I moved to Higham and wanted to meet people.

“I tried going down the gym but people just had their music on.

“So a few people at work told me to start running, but said that make sure I only buy a cheap pair of trainers as I have a reptuation for not sticking to things.

“So, I went to TK Maxx and bought a cheap £20 pair of running shoes and the rest is history.

“I’ve just gone from strength to strength.”

She is one of the founding members of Higham Ferrers Team Balancise, a group that has grown to more than 50 members in little over a year.

The group has attracted plenty of running beginners since it began.

As a person who can indentify with novice runners as she was in their position not so long ago, she takes as much pride in seeing new starters blossoming as much as her own personal achievements.

She said: “Some of our latest members are becoming really good runners.

“We had a lot start in June and seeing them do so well makes me feel really good.”

But as far as achievements go, Elaine was in good company while on the torch bearer’s bus on Monday morning.

Each torch bearer had to introduce themselves before the Kettering leg of the relay, with each nominee having an inspirational story to tell.

She said: “I met some wonderful people who all had some amazing stories to tell.

“Then you had Jim Redmond, who helped his son complete his 400m race after he tore his hamstring in the 1992 Olympic Games, which is a part of history.

“I passed the torch to him and shook his hand.

“Another person had donated their kidney to their brother-in-law.

“It was so inspiring.”

The countdown began for Elaine after she received confirmination that she would be one of the select few at the back end of 2011.

It was during a Christmas lunch with staff at her workplace when she received the good news, even though she opened up her emails on announcement day with some trepidation.

She said: “My trainer rang me at work and asked if I had heard anything as he said Coca Cola were announcing that day.

“I thought to myself ‘I haven’t heard anything yet’.

“So, I checked my emails after midday and lo and behold, there was the confirmation that I’d be a torchbearer.

“I started jumping up and down and screaming, and my manager joined me in yelling too. It was such a brilliant feeling.

“I was just really chuffed.”

After posting her best marathon time, Elaine is committed to keep getting better and better.

Now, she’s got her sights set on running for Great Britain in in the World Championships which take place in Rio de Janero next year.

She said: “I’m hoping to get to the championships and win gold for my country.

“I don’t want to be there if I’m not competing for medals, so I’m going to train really hard in preparation.”

Much closer than the Brazil event next year though is the sporting showpiece the relay has acted as a precursor to – the Olympics and Paralympics themselves.

Elaine is looking forward to seeing how British middle distance runner Mo Farah fares when he takes to the track during the games.

Despite her lack of confidence that she would stick to running before she had even begun, dedication to the cause is now part of Elaine’s mantra.

She added: “I started out doing it three days a week, now I’m running six times in seven days.

“When I started, I found I was quite good at it, I surprised myself.

“I sometimes have to work 60 hours a week and I’ve got a training programme to stick to, so it’s quite hard.

“I run to and from work if I have to, as well as running in my lunch break.

“I’ve been out running in Stanwick Lakes in winter through snow one foot deep, but it’s important to stick to the training regime.”

After arguably reaching the zenith of her running career yesterday as she jogged while holding the iconic flame, she has some wisee advice for beginners.

She said: “Stick at it.

“If I can do it at the age of 48, anyone can do it.”