ORDINARY Ross-shire folk whose stories reflect the Olympic ideal are gearing up for the experience of a lifetime today.
With the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics now fewer than 50 days away, anticipation is growing as the Olympic torch relay snakes towards the Highlands.
The flame, being carried by 8,000 people through more than 1,000 cities, towns and villages across the UK, reaches Inverness on Saturday.
Ross-shire torchbearers chosen to be part of this very special countdown have been nominated by well-wishers inspired by their can-do attitude and, in many cases, willingness to overcome major adversity.
Forty-five-year-old Greg Dobson, who is from Dornie, will be given his moment to shine on Saturday as he carries the flame through Fort Augustus.
Greg, who works at Portree High School, set up a unit to help children with social, emotional and behavioural problems three years ago.
He has been nominated for a Times Educational award in the Outstanding Community Partnership category after children at the school produced two prizewinning recycling initiatives.
He’s also raised money for a specially-adapted bike for children with special needs and the Heart Start charity.
The special bike allows a wheelchair to be attached to the front to give the user the chance to enjoy a cycling experience
Greg will also cycle 670 miles to London while raising funds for the two charities. His epic starts on Tuesday, June 28 — and he aims to be in the capital in time for the opening ceremony.
Twelve-year-old Dingwall lad Hugh Merrill, who will be carrying the torch during its progress through Inverness on Saturday, is described as “a very hard-working, polite and enthusiastic pupil” whose smile is capable of lighting up the room.
The youngster, who plays football and basketball to a high standard, was described in his nomination as “the perfect candidate” to carry the torch.
Along with his older sister, he has helped support his brother through his fight and ongoing treatment for cancer.
Hugh’s nomination form stated: “This has shown the strength and determination of his character to try to maintain a normal life during this difficult time. This takes courage of someone so young. He truly is an inspiration to his peers.”
Thirty-year-old Tim Mills, who comes from the Glensheil area, will enjoy his moment in the spotlight on Saturday as he runs through Fort Augustus.
He explained: “I love to run even though I have a disability. I use my enthusiasm to encourage others to keep fit too.
“As a baby, I had meningitis and a stroke which left me with a right-sided weakness and a club foot. I have never let this get me down. I enjoy life and love meeting people.
“Ten years ago, I dislocated my kneecap and was in plaster for six weeks, leaving me with a weak leg and overweight through lack of exercise. It was then I found running. I started slowly with a local group who meet every Saturday. I’ve now done eight 10k runs and am getting faster every time.
“It’s completely changed my life. I’m no longer overweight. I have made many new friends and it has helped me with my disabilities, improving my balance, making my body stronger. I do still fall over now and again. I want to stay fit and happy!”
Wester Ross teenager Rhoda Tippett has spoken of the “amazing” moment she learned she had been chosen for the once-in-a-lifetime honour.
Topping a month in which she had faced down her fear of heights — by leaping out of an aeroplane for charity — she learnt she had been chosen as a 2012 London Olympics torchbearer.
The plucky 18-year-old Gairloch girl was nominated by her mum, Janet.
A community activist who has lent a helping hand to a variety of causes, Rhoda will be part of the Inverness leg of the event on Saturday, June 9.
She celebrated her 18th birthday by taking on a 10,000-ft parachute jump which raised £1,536 for Highland Hospice.
Rhoda has also supported Ross-shire Women’s Aid and has run 10k events.
She admitted the prospect of leaping made her feel physically ill.
“I felt so sick it was horrible. But when the parachute opened it was a relief and that bit was so peaceful and nice and calm.
“When I landed on the ground I was so happy I had done it — it’s something you will never forget.”
That, of course, will be true too of the Olympic torch relay next week.
THE Olympic Torch will arrive in the Highlands on Saturday, June 9, to be carried through the streets by inspirational torchbearers from local communities.
The major event will see three days of celebrations stretching from Glencoe in the south-west, travelling through the Highlands, and visiting the islands as communities embrace the Olympic spirit.
The Olympic Flame stands for peace, unity and friendship.
Highland Council convener Jimmy Gray said: “This is an unprecedented weekend of major events in the Highlands, providing our communities with a terrific range of entertainment and spectacle and a huge economic boost. The Highlands will be the spotlight of the UK this weekend and I hope that it is one that will live in people’s memories.”
Further information on local events and the route can be found here.