Bravery rewarded with Olympic Torch honour

Wendy McClelland, carries the Olympic Flame through the village of Newbuildings early on Tuesday morning.  INLS 1223-517MT.
Wendy McClelland, carries the Olympic Flame through the village of Newbuildings early on Tuesday morning. INLS 1223-517MT.

THE Olympian like bravery of a Limavady school teacher who confronted a gang of violent burglars was rewarded with the honour of carrying the Olympic Torch in Londonderry on Tuesday morning.

Wendy McClelland carried the Olympic Torch through Newbuildings as part of its incredible journey from Mount Olympia to London, through over 1,000 communities and cities.

She was nominated by her daughter and husband for the honour for her bravery in attempting to stop burglars making their getaway from the home of her elderly mother.

The Limavady woman’s nomination story tells of the occasion she rushed to her mother’s aid after the windows of her home were smashed, carried out a hand-brake turn to block the getaway vehicle and used all her strength to hold the car door shut and keep the violent thieves locked in.

She told the Sentinel of her pride at carrying the Olympic flame, as well as the harrowing day she confronted the predatory thieves in Limavady.

She said: “It’s absolutely fantastic – first of all to have been nominated and second of all to have been able to carry the flame.

“It was organised with military precision. I had to be at the City Hotel at 27 minutes past five, they were that exact. I carried the torch at about quarter to eight through Newbuildings.

“It was about a year ago now, the burglary, it was front page in the Sentinel at the time. I got a phone call from my mother at about one o’clock in the evening.

“There was somebody breaking the bedroom window and somebody breaking the kitchen window, and my mother was standing there, petrified.

“We had had a spate of burglaries in the area – all to elderly people. This particular evening I got a phone call from my mother and rushed over. I saw a car coming out of the road, and I swung around to block them in. I had no thought about the danger through it all, it was surreal. I couldn’t think about it. I was just thinking about my mother.

“I brought the keys out of my car and ran at their car, screaming at them: ‘You wouldn’t need to have hurt my mother!’ They were like animals, screaming, asking the girls to drive over me and ram the car. They girls either couldn’t manoeuvre or they wouldn’t do it.

“I held the driver’s door shut – they couldn’t get the girls pushed out of the way to get to the front. This went on for about fifteen minutes. The police still hadn’t arrived, but eventually they managed to push the girl’s head at the front between the door and the car. I couldn’t keep pushing or I would have taken the head clean off her.

“I tried to hold her and stop her getting out of the car, but they managed to rev the engine of their car and push mine out of the way to get away. They did get away.

“If someone in the road they were pulling out onto had have had the initiative they could have blocked them in too, but they didn’t think of that. I think a lot of them probably thought it was a case of road rage and I was just going off my head!

“They did get away – but at least in my case nobody was killed. My mother was severely traumatised and had to move in with me – she has now moved into ‘the Fold’.

“In some ways it was a happy ending because my mother is in the Roe Fold in Limavady and she loves it there. For me, I got to carry the Olympic Torch.

“For the burglars themselves, I am sure if you give them enough rope they will hang themselves, as they say. They got away that time, but they will be caught at some stage.

“When I was nominated, I didn’t know anything about it. My daughter told me around Christmas time about it, that I was through to the final selection process. I actually didn’t believe it, even after her and my husband showed me all the stuff on the computer.

“I didn’t really realise until the tracksuit arrived last year! When I was carrying the Torch, it was just surreal. I thought I was dreaming. It felt like someone else was carrying it.

“The Torch itself is heavy enough, quite top-heavy with the gas cannister and you have to keep the logo facing forwards.”

She added: “It was a fantastic honour and I hop my daughter who was hoping to watch it online at Warwick University where she is a student is able to see me. I was thinking of her when I was carrying it.”