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Review of 2012: Summer of sport that thrilled the nation - July and August

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It was the summer of sport that thrilled the nation – so what was it like to actually take part in it all? Laura Elvin reports
The country was caught in the grip of Olympic and Paralympic fever throughout July and August. Thanks to the likes of Team GB heroes Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah, even sporting cynics started to find themselves cheering on from their armchairs as the medals rolled in. For Leicestershire, there were several athletes doing it not just for Team GB, but also for the county. Among them was Dan Greaves – or "Discus Dan" as he is known. Despite being born with a foot deformity, Dan, of Anstey, started his sporting career competing in able-bodied competitions, and was selected for Team GB as a junior in 2001. However, he was also eligible to compete in the Paralympics, and picked up medals of all three colours at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympics. But it was this year – the London 2012 Olympics, in his home country – that the 30-year-old was hoping to make the throw of his life. giggling As soon as the 80,000-strong crowd saw the flash of red, white and blue on his vest as he stepped out into the stadium, the place erupted. "I walked out behind everyone on my own and as soon as the crowds realised I was GB they went ballistic," he said. "People who had gone into the stadium before me said that I would not be able to help but laugh – and they were right. "They kept it up for my warm-up throws. I was giggling to myself during my warm-up. I was thinking 'do they know this doesn't even count?' "It was unbelievably loud. I was told that on that night it got up to 115 decibels. "It's hard to say how I felt – an enormous sense of pride. There was 80,000 people cheering for me. "I had my competitors to beat, but they had me plus 80,000 people, because the crowd was behind my every move. "Even when I went over to talk to my coach or signal to him, they would clap. It was unbelievable." Dan was born with talipes – a deformity of his feet which means he has reduced flexibility. Not that it has ever held him back. Dan was in the lead for most of the competition in London this summer. "I had the best three throws I've ever had in series in a Paralympic games. I thought I had it in the bag," he admitted. "My competitors were crumbling – I think it was the crowd." The thrilling final went down to the last throw of the night, but as the Olympic Park crowd cheered him on, Dan managed just 55.58m – which put him in second place. "I threw it 60m up, rather than 60m out and it landed at 55m and that was that – just one of those things. "We worked for seven years for that day, knowing that London was the ultimate Games. "Not many people know this but, with four weeks to go, I got a hernia. "I was very, very lucky to even make it to the Games." Dan says the continued support after the competition came as a surprise. "After I got my medal, it took me 40 minutes to walk 200 metres at 2.30am. It was crazy. "It was quite strange getting recognised – a little insight into being famous, I suppose. "I didn't sleep for more than a few hours in the four or five days after, the emotions were still there. "They still come back when I talk about it – it makes me dizzy, sometimes." Dan's preparation for that day in London began a long time ago. He started swimming at an early age, to aid his recovery from the annual operations he needed on his ankles. Hours in the pool saw him begin to develop the broad shoulders and arm muscles that would help him throw his way to four Paralympic medals. It was PE teacher Chris Higgins at Martin High, in Anstey, who saw 12-year-old Dan's discus potential. "My PE teacher was a hammer thrower, and I think he saw I could just pick it up straight away," says Dan. "I found it a lot easier than the other kids." Dan excelled in the under-15 and under-17 county championships. Not content with making his way into Paralympic sport quietly, Dan bagged a silver medal at his very first games – Sydney, in 2000. The transition to Paralympic sport was strange at first, he admits. "I mean, I don't really regard myself as disabled," he says. "It was a tough call because I didn't think of myself like that, I would always just get on with it. "I didn't know what to expect. I was a bit shy back then but everyone was really nice. I got there, competing with similar people to me, and I thought 'I can push this on'. When you start winning things and getting titles, you just keep going with it. "I took most people by surprise in Sydney, I think. I was there against people who had been doing it for years. And then, all of a sudden, I was second best in the world. It was quite a shock." Four years later, Dan picked up a gold medal in Athens, completing the set with a bronze at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008. He holds the world record for the Paralympic discus, after throwing 59.98m at the pre-IPC World Athletics Championships in New Zealand in 2011. He will defend the title at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon next summer, before the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. "I'm not going to let that one go easily, I can tell you that."
JULY

There was heartbreak at Glenfield Hospital as it was announced that children's heart surgery would be stopped.

Parents and staff broke down in tears after a national review body ruled that the number of hospitals carrying out heart surgery on children in England should be cut from 11 to seven – and that Glenfield would not be one of those to remain.

The bad news came following a national review of children's heart surgery which lasted more than two years, and a spirited campaign against the move.

However, the decision to stop services in Leicester is now under review itself.

The city's two universities were handing out honorary degrees in July, with Julie Etchingham (below), David Samworth and John Florance among those picking theirs up from the University of Leicester, and Lewis Moody and Moira Stewart among the names at De Montfort.

July also saw De Montfort University's £8 million sports centre opening its doors to the public for the first time.

Named The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee leisure centre, commemorating the royal visit earlier in the year, it was given the thumbs up by those who tried out free sessions during its opening two weeks.

Meanwhile, thrill-seeking Sofya Dickson, of Loughborough, became a YouTube star thanks to her unusual talent for climbing.

About a quarter of a million people watched a video of the three-year-old, who uses her hands and feet to shimmy her way up to the top of door frames.

David Parsons was back on the front page after stepping down from his role as leader of the county council.

His nine-year reign ended with his resignation just before his Tory colleagues were due to vote on whether to sack him.

County Hall's Conservative group had been due to hold a motion of no confidence in Councillor Parsons after the authority's standards committee ruled he breached the councillors' code of conduct over his travel expenses.

Leicester's mental health services were put under the spotlight when it emerged the coroner was to investigate the cases of seven people with mental health issues who died while in the care of the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust.

The five women and two men, aged between 19 and 55, died in a 19-month period, between November 2010 and June this year.

Six were either in-patients or out-patients at the Bradgate Unit, a mental health unit run by the trust.

The seventh, a 40-year-old woman from Leicester, is believed to have lived in accommodation run by the trust.

AUGUST

The city was in shock following the tragic deaths of two toddlers following a collision in the West End.

Oliwier Baczyk, aged one, and two-year-old Zofia Tabaka died after their pushchairs were caught up in the crash at the junction of Braunstone Gate and Narborough Road. Police are still investigating.

Meanwhile, former Leicester City star Gary Lineker was left "physically sick" when an internet user taunted his son, George, about his childhood battle with cancer. The unknown Twitter user sent a message to George in which he called him "leukaemia boy" and wrote "pity ya didn't die".

George was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia weeks after he was born in 1992, and had eight months of chemotherapy at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital.

Staff at Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital were also left in shock after thieves targeted their base in Kibworth. Not only did the thugs steal cages worth thousands of pounds, they also left birds and animals to die.

In cheerier news, Leicester City ambassador Alan Birchenall reached his £1 million fund-raising target.

The amazing sum was the result of three decades of effort to generate cash for various good causes.

The Birch began fund-raising in 1980, with a 90-minute sponsored run round the Filbert Street pitch. He thought it was a one-off – but the run went on to become an annual tradition before the last home game of each season, generating hundreds of thousands of pounds towards his total.

Doctors at Glenfield were delighted that an operation to fit a nerve stimulating device, similar to a pacemaker, into a 65-year-old man's chest had gone to plan. It was the first operation of its kind in Britain to use the device, which could save the lives of thousands of patients suffering from heart failure.

And it was confirmed that Leicestershire had seen its soggiest summer for 100 years, with the highest rainfall in that time.

Review of 2012: Summer of sport that thrilled the nation - July and August


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