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The Olympic torchbearer: How friendship was forged from London bombings

Paramedic Tracy Russell was one of the Olympic torchbearers after a patient she treated in 7/7 attacks was unable to attend

Editor's note: As part of our year-end coverage, we look back at some of 2012's biggest news stories and reconnect with some of those involved. In this exclusive article, Tracy Russell, the London paramedic who treated an Australian survivor, Gill Hicks, of the 7/7 bombings, recalls how she carried the Olympic torch in London this summer for her friend who was forced to withdraw because she could not travel.

By Tracy Russell

I already knew that Gill Hicks wouldn't be able to fly back to the UK from Australia to carry the Olympic Torch. She had been advised by doctors not to make the long haul journey as she was three months pregnant.

But that phone call from Gill asking me to carry the Torch on her behalf came as a complete shock. Initially I thought she was joking, something which is now commonplace between us as we are both terrible jokers!

Photo London Ambulance Service
"I felt very emotional as I knew each step I took, Gill was taking it with me."
Photo London Ambulance Service "I felt very emotional as I knew each step I took, Gill was taking it with me."  

After a while I realized she was serious and she told me that she just had to obtain the agreement of the Olympic Organizers. That duly came and I was to run with the Olympic Torch on July 26 12:58 in Wandsworth, South West London.

Even at this point my stomach was churning with the enormity of the responsibility, but what an honor that Gill had chosen me, of all people, to represent her. I couldn't thank her enough and was beaming with pride.

Our friendship came about in rather an unconventional manner. I was working an ordinary shift with the London Ambulance Service as a frontline Emergency Medical Technician on Thursday, July 7, 2005. I was very excited as I was due to get married in eight days time.

Then, unfortunately, London went berserk with the noise of sirens from the emergency services rushing everywhere. The noise was deafening and at first we were not sure what was going on. It soon became clear and we sped to Russell Square Tube Station.

A bomb had gone off on a train just as it had left Kings Cross Station. We obviously found out later there had been other bombs detonated around London. Gill was one of the patients that we treated on the Piccadilly line train on that fateful morning.

Fast forward one year, and my crew mate and I were asked if we would like to meet a patient that we had treated on that day. I was terrified if I'm honest because I was worried about talking about the events of that day and all the memories it would evoke.

Selfishly I didn't want to put myself back there again. Thank goodness we did agree as the patient was Gill. 

When the day came this year when I'd be carrying the torch, I was extremely nervous but buzzing with the anticipation of the day. I knew Gill would be watching my every step live on TV back in Adelaide.

Myself and about 25 other torchbearers all boarded the coach to take us to the relevant part of our relay, which would be just 330 yards.

It was a scorching day in London and the streets were lined with people waving, cheering and willing me on. I felt very emotional as I knew each step I took, Gill was taking it with me.

I was crying with the pride of carrying the torch and knowing that my family, friends and my husband Tony and 3-year-old daughter, Lucy, were watching in the crowd, too.

Gill and I have become such close friends since that initial meeting or, should I say, second meeting a year after the bombings. She is such a generous and warm spirited person, a true inspiration to me and to the many people her life has touched since this terrible tragedy.

She never complains about what has happened to her – she lost both her legs -- and she has no anger toward the people that committed these heinous crimes against innocent people just commuting to work that morning.

Although she now lives back in her native Australia. I can't wait to visit her and cuddle her newborn baby, which arrives in late January.

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