Sunday 4 December 2016

'I'll treasure it forever' - Dublin schoolboy whose athletic dreams were dashed by illness carries Olympic torch on Rio streets

Published 29/07/2016 | 21:39

Mark O'Brien carrying the Olympic torch
Mark O'Brien carrying the Olympic torch

A Dublin schoolboy whose aspirations of being an athlete were cut short due to illness fulfilled the dream of a lifetime when he carried the Olympic torch through the streets of Brazil ahead of the Rio Olympics opening ceremonies next Friday.

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“It was incredible. Carrying the flame was an amazing experience, something I’ll cherish forever,” Mark O’Brien, (13), from Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Mark O’Brien (13) pictured with his parents Joan and Frank and sister Isabel, age 11.
Mark O’Brien (13) pictured with his parents Joan and Frank and sister Isabel, age 11.

The secondary student was the sole Irish person to bear the Olympic torch ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio.

He joined 12,000 torchbearers from around the world who have been chosen to take the Olympic flame across Brazil  after it arrived from Athens.

Mark carried the torch 200 metres through the streets of Volta Redonda, about 100kms from Rio, before handing it over to another proud torchbearer.

“He did amazingly well,” said his mother Joan. “It was incredible.”

Mark O’Brien (13) Blackrock, before he headed for Rio
Mark O’Brien (13) Blackrock, before he headed for Rio

She and Mark’s father Frank O’Brien and his sister Isobel, (11), were among the thousands who thronged the streets of the town to watch history in the making last Thursday as torchbearers proudly bore the torch through the streets.

Mark’s performance, which went off without a hitch, was not only one of his proudest moments to date, it may also have saved his life.

He was personally selected for the honour by the President of the Rio 2016 Organising Committee.

He wrote three heart-wrenching letters to the Brazilian embassy in Dublin, the Olympic headquarters in Switzerland and the Olympic Organising Committee.

He explained that despite being  a promising competitive  runner as a young child and an aspiring young athlete, he was diagnosed with a  congenital stomach condition two years ago that severely compromised his immune system and left him unable to walk, let alone run, at one stage.

Despite this, he refused to let his illness extinguish his dreams of being an athlete one day.

And just like the Olympic flame itself, his dreams of bearing the Olympic torch for Ireland  kept him going through his darkest days after undergoing surgery.

He even bought a torchbearer’s uniform from the London 2012 Olympics on eBay to keep the dream alive.

“That’s what helped motivate me. I needed to get better to run with a torch,” he said.

And thanks to his local sports club, the Blackrock Athletic Club, which organised a fundraising “fun run” to raise money for Mark’s treatment abroad, he is steadily improving.

He is slowly building up his immune system and aims to run a four-minute mile and a three-hour marathon when he returns from Rio next week.

“We’re so proud that he persevered (with the letters), “ said his mother.

“It just shows you that you can make your dreams come true,” she said.

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