Cyclist Simon Richardson lights last Paralympic cauldron in Cardiff

 

An injured cyclist whose Paralympics dream was dashed by a drink-driver ignited the last cauldron to be lit ahead of the 2012 games.

Simon Richardson won two golds and one silver medal at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008.

His hopes of representing Great Britain on home soil came to an abrupt end last summer when he was knocked off his bike while training.

But the 45-year-old sportsman, who has vowed to return to action, was given a boost on his road to recovery after getting the Paralympic Torch relay under way in south Wales this morning.

After lighting the cauldron outside a rain-soaked Cardiff City Hall, Richardson said: "I would have preferred to have been competing but this is the next best thing.

"It was such a shock to get the phone call asking me to do this."

Cardiff is the last of four cities in the UK to hold a festival marking the arrival of the Paralympic flame.

Flames from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England will unite before a relay to Wednesday's opening ceremony.

A cauldron was lit in London on Friday, while events took place in Belfast and Edinburgh over the weekend.

Welsh Government Sports Minister Huw Lewis said today's event in the Welsh capital was perfectly poignant.

"Simon Richardson perfectly embodies the courage and determination of the Paralympic spirit," he added.

The flame, flanked by a team of officers in BMWs from the Metropolitan Police, then made its way to Rookwood Hospital in Llandaff, Cardiff.

The facility, which has specialist spinal and neurological rehabilitation wards, has treated many past Welsh Paralympic athletes.

A pair of gold-coloured lanterns, with a silver 2012 logo, were given to two nursing staff before going on a tour of the hospital.

Twelve-year-old schoolboy Ethan Roberts of Treuddyn, near Mold, got the honour of entering the neurological ward with the lamp - before passing it around to patients.

Among those getting to grips with the flame was 61-year-old Geoff Thomas Vennard, who was in a coma for more than five months after a freak accident at his home in Barry.

He said: "I suddenly felt dizzy at the top of the stairs and then the next thing I was falling down them.

"As I went to stand up, I fell back and knocked my head against the wall.

"All I can remember after that was waking up in a coma and learning I'd lost six pints of blood.

"I've been in hospital now for around nine months and am looking forward to getting home.

"So getting to see the flame and the excitement surrounding it has been a real boost."

That sentiment was echoed by the ward's clinical director, Jenny Thomas.

She said: "The Paralympics can be a fantastic source of inspiration to many patients like the ones we look after.

"It just shows that it is still possible to achieve things - and that is evident by the number of many Paralympians we have helped over the years."

Scores of youngsters at Championship side Cardiff City's House of Sport Coaching Academy also got involved with the spirit of things at an event celebrating the imminent start of the Paralympic Games.

The indoor arena, just a stone's throw from the Cardiff City Stadium, opened two years ago and sees its 4G artificial pitch used by a wide range of people - from seasoned pros like Bluebirds ace Craig Bellamy to aspiring soccer stars.

Chris McDermott, a co-ordinator at The House of Sport, said disability football had seen its popularity rise in the run-up to the 2012 Games.

He said: "There's six different impairments that we cater for and, while we haven't got a team member in the ParalympicsGB squad, we have had players play for Wales.

"Football can play a positive role for someone with a disability.

"Our members range from five to 45 years old and, as well as the obvious health benefits, it can also boost their self-confidence."

The sporting theme continued into the afternoon with a series of outdoor demonstrations in The Hayes in Cardiff city centre.

Shoppers stopped in their tracks and posed for photos with an unlit official torch, ahead of the main relay.

And, despite the continuing downpour, active youngsters braved the rain to show off their skills in table tennis and judo as well as a display from the Cardiff Celts wheelchair basketball team.

PA

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