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Rekindling the Flame: Olympic Torch 2000

Updated: Apr 4, 2023


Picture of Nick holding the 2000 Sydney Olympics Torch standing on the running track wearing his Achilles running shirt
Picture of Nick holding the 2000 Sydney Olympics Torch standing on the running track wearing his Achilles running shirt

It has been over 20 years since I proudly carried the lighted Olympic torch through the streets of Bankstown, New South Wales. An honour made possible when the Green Acre Lions Club nominated me. I carried the torch with Kathy Romeo (nee Katen), a member of Sydney Achilles Running Club, who had been a huge influence in my life when I moved from Melbourne to Sydney in the early 1990s. Kathy and other committed members of the club helped me adjust at a time when I had many challenges.


By 1995, my wife Heather and I had two young children and I was seeking a new sport beyond blind cricket, which I had enjoyed playing since my early childhood and teenage years at a school for the blind in Kew. I was searching for a sport for my own fitness, rather than competition, an activity where I could meet other people and –if my body held up!– I could exercise for many years to come.


The newly-formed Achilles Running Club was my introduction to long distance running, half-marathons, marathons and ultimately ultra-distance events. Kathy became a regular running partner. A tremendous young woman who helped me to believe in myself! She swept me up under her wing and Centennial Park became our major training centre. Every Wednesday and Saturday, whatever the weather, we could be seen running lap after lap around the 3.8km circuit. She was supportive, tenacious and would never let me give up: “Come on Nick —not far to go —I am with you!”. Then she would chuckle and add: “Remember, you are running WITH a beautiful blonde!” Kathy knew this would always break me up laughing and whatever pain was being experienced would always be eased. I witnessed her impressive ability to involve and encourage people, especially those who had multiple disabilities. She was someone who treated each individual on their merits and accepted people with disabilities without hesitation. She lived and breathed inclusivity before the concept became popular. I knew how they loved her.


Family, friends, work colleagues and the general public lined the streets on the September 12th, 2000, a fine Spring morning as the eager anticipation of our home Olympics was beginning to build. My brother Maurice arrived from Melbourne and he joined those on the sidelines as Kathy and I jogged the 400 metres and proudly held the torch aloft, the cheering voices and clapping hands like champagne to my ears. I felt very proud, but even then I had mixed emotions at such a public event, as I know there are so many other people who might have been chosen in my place. I was representing a whole team of blind- and vision-impaired athletes and I hope a role model for others: progress from the ordinary to the extraordinary is possible!


Fast forward twenty-two years and today I am with my running coach Ryan Talbot and my long time devoted support worker Jessica at Sylvania Waters Athletics Track. I found the symbolic Olympic torch replica hidden away in a cupboard and together we again proudly hold the torch in the air for photos. The flame has long been extinguished and yet the Olympic spirit of unity lives on. For me, it is a celebration of their contribution to my return to short distance racing, something I very much wanted but didn’t know was possible in my early-sixties and with numerous physical ailments. They are both brilliant in their own lives as coach and athlete. They are wonderful examples of people who reach out to others, who show such tremendous respect to all, and in particular to people with disabilities. Their words and actions motivate me every time we meet at the track, Ryan’s words resound: “All you can do is give one hundred per cent!”

Picture of Nick in the middle with Ryan on the left side and Jess on the right, standing together on the track with Nick holding the 2000 Sydney Olympic Torch
Picture of Nick in the middle with Ryan on the left side and Jess on the right, standing together on the track with Nick holding the 2000 Sydney Olympic Torch

Ryan is extraordinarily busy with high-profile sporting teams throughout the world and yet he blocks out each Wednesday morning for me. His positive energy and coaching skills give me hope and help create self-belief.


We have just completed another training session. We focus on some of the neurological issues that have crept into my life over the years and together they try different techniques to help me find more speed, more bounce and balance. My heart rate is still slowing as we prepare for the photo and I try to wipe the perspiration from my face. My breathing slows and I have time to take in the sun on me, the wind over my right shoulder, the backdrop of people on the running track and a magpie chortling nearby. Someone is throwing left and right punches at a bag. In boxing parlance, I imagine the left hook, the right cross and the straight uppercut. I hear the bang, the whack and the boom. I hear the whoosh as they exhale and listen to the rhythmic movement of their dancing feet. I hear children training nearby, a sound I love as I know they are our tomorrows, our future, our hope.


My return to the track has involved a dedicated team of people, including Belinda Sidrak my dedicated physio, who has treated me for many years. In my minds eye, I have never asked, but I am quite certain Belinda is petite and yet as strong as a lion and her dedication to my ongoing health is incredible. As I write this piece, Belinda is preparing for the London Marathon. I always look forward to hearing about her stepping-stones of progress towards the London start line and I visualise her crossing the finish line. And I recall that amazing mixed emotions of joy, relief and ecstasy of completing the challenging 42km race. My young, enthusiastic, brilliant exercise physiologist, Liam Whittaker, takes me out of my comfort zone each session and I rediscover muscles long forgotten. I hear him saying, “extend, come on, 8, 9, 10, you’ve done it”. Liam is the grandson of the legendary middle- and long-distance runner Albie Thomas, Olympian and former world recorder holder.

Picture of Nick with his Physiotherapist Belinda
Picture of Nick with his Physiotherapist Belinda

I am also assisted by my long-time support worker Daniela Newman and in more recent times, Ezeddin Jaber and Ramona Schenini who take on the training challenges without hesitation and have overwhelmingly enhanced my life. A team of people who, over time, enabled me to reach a level of fitness and confidence to race again.

Picture of Nick with Daniela on the left, Jess in the middle and Nick on the right, at a local cafe
Picture of Nick with Daniela on the left, Jess in the middle and Nick on the right, at a local cafe

It was in November 2022 that I took to an athletics track again after an absence of some 36 years. Ashley, a young man with enormous ability and awareness of humanity made himself available at late notice to guide me at the NSW athletics meet held at Olympic Park, Homebush. Ash is a talented triathlete and a wonderful sighted guide, who runs in rhythm with me, a big challenge in itself. This was my first 100-metre race and Heather and my son Peter were there to cheer me on. My daughter Belinda sent me her love and best wishes on the morning of the event. It has not been easy for them to put up with a husband/father who has always sought out the next challenge, the next adventure, the next experience, who is not prepared to drift into a laid-back aging lifestyle. I have always searched for the next steps in life. It’s with enormous joy and relief that we cross the line and shake the hands of the other competitors. I hear their rapid breathing and know they have also given their best. It is often the coming together in an activity that brings golden joy to those involved.

Picture of Nick running in a sprint race with his guide Ash, using a tether and blindfold with Nick in his blue Sutherland Athletics uniform
Picture of Nick running in a sprint race with his guide Ash, using a tether and blindfold with Nick in his blue Sutherland Athletics uniform

Fortunately, with age and maturity I have learnt that I love and enjoy reading, writing, art and music. An important additional recreational dimension in my life. An opportunity for me to relax and enhance understanding of my spiritual self. My recent acquisition to my Team, support person Ramona, has helped me to discover orchestral concerts (with champagne at interval), and the sensory experience of national parks: we pause and listen to the concert of birdsong, we touch the branches, the leaves of trees. And the joy of walking on a beach, the sound of waves rolling in and out, the textured sensory feeling of the sand and the wind telling its own story.


And now it’s early February, and Jessica is beside me, warming up with me prior to my second race at the State Masters Championships. We are doing our pre-race drills and short sprints. It is a hot day, good for racing. There is a definite buzz in the air. Jessica reminds me: “Knees up, push off the ground with each stride, lean forward, relax your body and enjoy.” The sounds of anticipation. While we experience some administrative, officialdom challenges, it’s soon resolved and it’s time to run. We are milling behind the start line and I consciously take in what I can’t see. I hear runners speaking with excited nervousness, I hear what I think is half smiling laughter, again nervous excitement, I notice the different smells, linament oil, body odour (not so bad!) and the scent of the track.


We are finally ordered to move into our allocated lanes. I stand next to my wonderful young guide Jess. The familiar feelings of lining up, especially when I hear “On your marks, set, go!!!!” amplifies across the 10-lane track. Memories flood back to me of those days when I was fortunate to race in almost every state in Australia. I turn to Jess as we cross the finish line: “We made it!” The rush of endorphin kicks in and I grin. Done, completed!

Picture of Nick in front of the running track, wearing his blue Suthherland Athletics uniform
Picture of Nick in front of the running track, wearing his blue Suthherland Athletics uniform

Jess and I train together twice a week and words cannot describe the effect she has on my life. She assists me with so many facets. Daniela, too, is amazing. She is my regular running guide on Fridays and we usually follow up with a recovery session at my local pool. If time permits we will often be seen in an art gallery, where Daniela excels with her vast creative ability when describing the art I cannot see. We stand before a Margaret Ollie painting and gradually her words enable me to see in my mind the table setting of the piece. We have bridged the abyss of blindness and Margaret Ollie’s tablecloth, plates, bowls, fruit and cups with all their colour and character I CAN NOW SEE! It is emotional, it is real and it is wonderful. Daniela’s support goes beyond the track, the pool and art galleries as I had two recent operations and she understood my fear of hospitals. Total blindness and hospitalization are not good partners! She helps greatly reduce my anxiety. It is such a relief to know there are people in my life who can be there when things are scary, when fear grips me.


There have been so many people –too many to include here– who have had such a positive impact in my life, in particular members of the Achilles Running Club in Sydney and collectively I thank you all. The National Disability Insurance Scheme has had an overwhelming and profoundly positive impact and has simply enabled me to live an amazing life.


It has greatly assisted me to build a healthier body, a more content mind and to create endless possibilities for today, tomorrow and –all being well– into the future.

Exploration of my own possibilities has been a wonderful motivator in my life. Through blindness I discovered that there are many ways of seeing and that no goal, no request is too extreme.



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