A once in a lifetime moment is on its way for wheelchair user William Copp – propelling the Olympic torch through Salisbury in July.
The chance for the St John’s School sixth former to play a significant role as the torch sweeps its historic way en route to London has come about as a total surprise for the 17-year-old student, an opportunity he treasures.
“There is no better accolade than to be asked to contribute to the Olympic Games,” he told Marlborough News Online as he prepares for the event made possible by Wiltshire Council welfare worker Sue Smith.
“The Olympics comes to your own country only once in a lifetime. I am just thrilled to be able to do it thanks to Sue.”
“She has worked with me since my days in primary school and put in the application for me to be an Olympic torch bearer without telling me anything about it.”
“I was sitting at home one day four months ago when I got this phone call tell me I was to be a torch bearer. I thought it was someone having a laugh and didn’t take it seriously at first.”
“Then I was completely gob-smacked and didn’t know how to react. I remember I just sat there in silence in my wheelchair for a few minutes letting it sink in.”
“It’s going to be a really exciting day for me, especially as it’s going to be in my dad’s home town of Salisbury. It’s quite fitting as he went to both the Sydney and Atlanta Olympic Games as the GB hockey team coach.”
“So we have an Olympian in the family already.”
Dad is Jon Copp, director of the Marlborough College Summer School for the past 30 years, who played hockey during he days at Salisbury’s Bishop Wordsworth’s School and played for the Salisbury Town team.
Both he and William’s mother Sally were PE teachers and it is their love of sport that William has inherited, along with his amazing determination, exemplified by his success playing wheelchair basketball for South West Scorpions “my main sporting passion”.
And his ability to play wheelchair tennis and wheelchair rugby plus his triumph learning to ski in the French Alps – he hopes to compete in events next year – and now his current challenge in learning to drive a specially adapted car, giving him the freedom to travel wherever he wants.
That follows difficult times growing up disabled. “When I was younger I was quite shy and a withdrawn person partly because of my disability, partly because of the situation I was in,” explained William, who lives in West Overton.
“I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to be as sporty as the rest of the family – my older brother Jack is a sportsman too. But if you are determined enough and talk to the right people you can open doors for yourself and create wonderful opportunities.”
He laughs and giggles now at the prospect of carrying the Olympic torch for 300 metres through Salisbury on July 12, though initially he worried how he could propel the speedy sports wheelchair he uses for basketball and hold on to the torch at the same time.
“I thought I might end up as public enemy number one and drop the Olympic torch,” William joked. “They’re going to fix a special holder to the side of my wheelchair and so I will be able to do it like that and now worry about dropping the torch.”
Friends and fellow pupils from St John’s will be in Salisbury waving flags and cheering William on. He only became a student this year because of the school’s initial lack of disabled facilities, but William is thankful to Commonweal School, a performing arts academy in Swindon, where he was introduced to wheelchair basketball.
Now he preparing for A levels in Business Studies, Psychology, English and History and is intent on going to university with his ambition to become a sports journalist or working in the sports psychology field.
He will be showing off his writing skills reporting on the Olympic torch run in Salisbury for Marlborough News Online — and hopefully interviewing disabled sportsmen and women taking part in the ParaOlympic Games, for which tickets are already booked.
“My love of sport comes from my whole family and from my father especially,” said William.
And his father responded: “We are all immensely proud of our William.”