Anita [Neet] Neilson Olympic Torchbearer 9th June 2012 Glasgow tells #citizenrelay the story of the day in her own words (and images)

When Julie Thomson, a colleague and very close friend, said she had nominated me to be an Olympic Torchbearer I felt really honoured that she thought me worthy but didn’t expect to get picked to be one of the 8000, of which only a few hundred came from Scotland. It was with tears of joy that I found out I was to be a Torchbearer in Glasgow and cannot thank Julie enough for her wonderful nomination.

The reasons for my nomination included my coaching of a team of girls to run marathons [which included Julie]. I am proud to say that this small group of 4 has now grown to 14 and keeps on expanding. I have called us the Maragirls (see below) and we have found great friendship through our training.  I also ran through breast cancer treatments . During this time however the fact that I felt so well when I ran and after it kept me going and I do believe it helped me fight the cancer into remission. Research from the University of Dundee now confirms exercise is good for cancer patients and it is my goal to advocate this as much as I can and do more in the future to help others fight cancer through exercise. 

Being a Torchbearer on the day was an experience I will never forget. The package containing the street information where I would be running and the suit arrived one week before the event.  The suit was way too big for me even though it was an extra small and the literature said you were not allowed to change how it looked in any way if making alterations. Well if I left it as it was, the lovely gold writing on the trouser leg would have been obscured by the long top and the sleeves would have had to have been rolled up.  So very carefully I cut off 6 inches from the top, 4 inches from the sleeves, 4 inches from the trouser bottoms and finished them in the same manner so the alterations were not noticeable.  Now that was better!! Note to Stella: a nice gold belt would have really finished it off perfectly but accessories were not allowed!

The Torchbearers booklet also told us that white trainers were the recommended footwear! Well this was probably the only opportunity I would have to be me so I bought white high heeled trainers from ebay – I did consider [and even bought] gold sequins braiding on the trainers but was afraid this would bring too much attention to my feet which could then be banned [and ME] on the day!  The trousers were still long enough to hide them and from the front they looked like ordinary trainers.

The booklet also informed us that we had to turn up at the collection point wearing only the suit and carrying no belongings as the bus that dropped us off at our relay street was not the same one that would pick us up after our stint. So anything we needed to take with us had to fit into a credit card [how handy since I still had to purchase my torch and they only took Visa or cash!] sized pocket hidden inside the trousers.  Now anyone that knows me knows I like to carry lip gloss, money, iphone [won’t ever leave home without that!], credit card [obviously] and housekeys. All this was NOT going to fit in that wee pocket.  So I bought a money bag in light grey and all my essentials fitted nicely into it! I even had room for a comb – just in case!  This sat invisibly under my top.  And expecting to be cold [it is Scottish summertime after all] I also had a white long sleeved layer under my top and prayed it wouldn’t rain!

Also on order [being a runner this was essential wear] a white shock absorber sports bra which unfortunately wasn’t in stock so I had to go out and buy a normal white bra; though not now really a concern since as I was now wearing heels I intended to walk my 300 meters.  In fact I even had a trial run the day before in my shiny new trainers – it took me 2 mins 34 secs to walk at a casual pace the allocated distance so I knew I was safely within my allocated time allowance for the distance I was to cover.

We had to be at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow for 5am on the Saturday morning. After a restless sleep [I was afraid I might sleep in] I got up at 3.30am to start getting ready – the hair took longer than usual and the make up was a necessity if I was to be beamed to the whole world via the relay live feed!  Too early for breakfast I suited up and it wasn’t long before the taxi I had booked the evening before was sitting outside my door at 4.15am!

Excited [and slightly nauseous with lack of sleep, lack of breakfast and a bag of nerves] I headed off, leaving my husband and son to get up and follow on down for 7am.  Now the celeb status really hit home when the taxi driver was ecstatic that he had a Torchbearer in his cab and asked to have his photo taken with me at the end of my journey.  He must have given me a discount too because that is the cheapest taxi ride into town I have ever had!! On the way there, just as we were about to take the correct turning to the Riverside Museum, an Olympic Relay car stopped at the lights alongside us in the lane going in the wrong direction with their map out trying to find their way there.   My taxi driver wound his window down and shouted repeatedly, “I’ve a Torchbearer in my car!!!”   When they eventually realised what he was saying they wound their window down to say they were lost.  He told them to follow us because “I’ve got a Torchbearer in my car!” We arrived 2 minutes later and as soon as I had paid my fare he got out of the cab and took a photo of me in my suit.  The relay team that followed us in gave me a torch to hold for the photo and they also took his photo with the torch and I! He was a happy man!

In the Riverside Museum at the registration and identification confirmation [oh aye my driving license also had to fit in that wee pouch!] I paid for my torch!  The literature had stated that although we could pay for our torch at the allocated time period before the event [which I missed] or on the day [which I was desperate to do in case they decided to remove the privilege after so many selling them on ebay], we would not receive our torch until August, after they had been decommissioned. So imagine my joy when she told me that we would get it home with us that day!! This really was the icing on the cake! In fact I think it would have felt rather like an anti climax if we left the event without it! And how would we ever have known if we actually got the torch we had carried on the day?

Time flew in with the admin, the briefing of how it would go from bus to relay to bus, and with some paparazzi moments, taking pictures of all of us in ours suits.  I found out I was to be the second person to run that day and that my spot would be identifiable by a sticker on the lamppost with my number on it.  Thank God I had my phone, I texted my friends and family where to go exactly.  I met some wonderful and inspiring people that day who would share my experience from Glasgow to Bearsden.  We would all be together on the buses until we were back at our collection point.  Everybody’s story brought tears to my eyes. Such brave, inspirational and motivating people and children; all as deserving as the next person. I was truly humbled and honoured to be grouped with these wonderful people which has inspired me to do more after this is over, to help others.   Before I knew it, we were escorted to the shuttle bus [with a quick interview en route for BBC Radio Scotland with Emma Baird, the inspiring wee lassie that was to be the first runner of the day –  to be dropped off at our allocated spot.

I was handed my very own torch from the spot labelled NEET and I could see all my family and closest friends waiting for me as I stepped off the bus to a massive array of cheers.  A Metropolitan policewoman met me and stood by my side.  She was very friendly and her chatting eased my nerves.  Every time I looked at my friends or family I started crying [tears of joy].  I had time to have my picture taken with everyone before Emma came to “kiss” my torch.  As the convoy approached and the camera van passed I was escorted to the middle of the road where security police flanked either sides of us and the flame was handed to me from Emma.  It was extremely exciting and we felt hugely important with this responsibility!  Then it was my turn!  Asking if I could walk because I had high heels on the policeman laughed and said “try a light jog!”  So I made history and it got mentioned on the news that I was the first person to run the relay in a pair of white high heels!  

You might think 300 metres wouldn’t take long to run especially after I had timed it by walking but that couple of minutes did feel like a wonderfully long moment to shine.  Waving to the screaming crowds, trying to balance the [800 grammes] torch in one hand and avoid the cracks in the road in my high heels was the most amazing moment of my life.  On the left my family, my closest friends [including the Maragirls] kept pace with me shooting the scene with their cameras and phones, in front the camera truck was filled with cameras streaming live on air and on my right my running club, Garscube Harriers, ran alongside lead by the amazing Debbie Martin Consani who, only the weekend before, WON the Grand Union Canal Race of 145 miles in 28 hours and 1 minute (including ahead of all male competitors).  The 300 metres were enjoyed every step of the way! And then it was my turn to pass the flame over to the next Torchbearer.  We “kissed” torches and I moved aside.  There was a couple of minutes to cuddle my family and friends [and cry some more] before being escorted back onto the bus. 

And it didn’t end there!  Once on the bus, the atmosphere was electric as we cheered every torchbearer as they finished their stint and we waved to the crowds in true celeb fashion as they waved back and snapped shots of us in the passing bus.  To my delight, I discovered that as soon as you step on the bus, your torch is decommissioned in seconds and placed in a canvas bag and handed right back to you. So sitting on the bus, we were all holding our prized possession – none of us were selling our torches!   I then passed through my hometown Bearsden and enjoyed watching Andrew Boyle run the torch through Bearsden Cross.  I had met Andy at a primary school where we had both been invited to talk about being Torchbearers.  A young medical student, Andy is a kind, selfless individual who had a natural gift in coaching children. His nomination can be read here

His whole Lenzie Youth Club were amongst the thousands that swarmed the streets of Bearsden.  For 8am on a Saturday morning, the turnout was one to be proud of.  At the end of Bearsden, I asked if I could get off the bus rather than have my family come get me at the museum back in Glasgow as I was only a 5 minute walk from my home.  “No problem!” I was told and I was allowed to exit the bus, torch in hand bidding my fellow torchbearers goodbye.

As soon as I left the bus I heard, “OH MY GOD THERE’S A TORCHBEARER! And I was swamped by people wanting to hear my story, touch the torch and have their photos taken with me and the torch.  It was stuff my dreams are made of!  For 40 minutes I felt like I was a true celebrity, I was certainly shining in my moment! Yes this was a wonderful day, a wonderful experience I will remember all my life! A reward for doing something good but also incentive to do even more! And all thanks to Julie for nominating me and making my wildest fantasies come true.  This will be one year I won’t forget the Olympics and what it meant to everyone I have encountered during this experience.

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