In the news

30th July 2010 at 01:00

Shirley Parker

A textile technology teacher at The Chauncy School in Ware, Hertfordshire, for 24 years, Shirley Parker lives in the village of Aston, near Datchworth. Thanks to her efforts, the village has volunteered to host athletes from the British Virgin Islands (BVI) who hope to compete in the London 2012 Olympics. Eric Matthias, the BVI discus thrower, has just spent six weeks in the village.

What's in it for you?

"It's lovely to have someone from another country. We can learn about their country, and they can learn about ours. I have a friend in Oz who hosted the small Pacific island of Kiribati in the Sydney Olympic Games. I went over to help and we volunteered in the Athens Games, doing voluntary uniform fittings. When the BVI asked for help in London, my friend called me because there's no sense her helping from Oz. Then I asked my friends in the village. The big nations can afford hotels, but small, poorer countries can't."

Are you raising the flag for Aston?

"When Eric arrived, we had a flag-raising ceremony with the BVI flag at the village church. The flag was raised for the whole of his stay, then it came down when he left, like the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Everyone knew him - he was big, black and 6ft 4in, so easy to spot. People would stop when they saw him to ask how he was getting on. We also write about his progress in the parish magazine."

Which team are you batting for?

"Although I will be supporting Britain, I am the BVI attache and will be waving their flag, too. A small team could be only 14, and the rest of the country can't afford to travel and support them. When a friend and I went to the Manchester Commonwealth Games, there was a sprinter from Kiribati. It was a country no one had heard of, but my friend and I were there with a flag. When the runner saw it, she got so emotional. I thought if I could raise the flag for other smaller countries and make an athlete run just a second faster, it would all be worth it."

I bet the school is revelling in this.

"Yes, Eric has visited our PE department and one at another school. He gave them tips on discus throwing and ideas on what it's like to compete. The head spoke about it in assembly and I expect more will be said when more athletes arrive closer to the Games."

Are you tempted to compete?

"No, I'm more into textiles. But volunteering like this is a great way to participate in the Games. As part of the bid, the London Olympics gave each team #163;25,000 to spend on training over here, so we are expecting more athletes. The BVI have an amazing 100m sprinter, Tahesia Harrigan, who will be coming soon and will almost certainly qualify."

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