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Luke Williams' moment to shine

Jamaican teacher joins Olympic torch relay ahead of 2012 Games

BY JANICE BUDD Associate Editor — Sunday buddj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 29, 2012    

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THERE is a very detailed ritual that surrounds the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece every four years, and transporting that global symbol to the host city.

It is lit by the sun's rays at the Temple of Hera in Olympia in a traditional ceremony among the ruins of the home of the ancient Games.

After a short relay around that country, the flame is handed over to the new host city at another ceremony in the Panathenaiko stadium in Athens before being delivered to the host country, where it is transferred from one torchbearer to another, spreading the message of peace, unity and friendship. The last torchbearer lights the cauldron at the Olympic Games opening ceremony, as the world saw just last Friday, marking the official start of the widely anticipated sporting competition. There it burns until the final day of the Games.

This Games, among the 8,000 people entrusted with transporting this key Olympic symbol around the United Kingdom was Luke Williams, a teacher, journalist and actor from Jamaica.

Williams, 46, has served Central Foundation Girls' School in Wanstead in the London Borough of Redbridge for all of the 10 years since he left Jamaica, where he has motivated and inspired many of his students. He has earned the reputation among them as "the consummate teacher and a great friend".

Which is why they had no hesitation in nominating him as a torchbearer.

That nomination, read, in part: "So many students seek him out to talk about their problems at home and he takes the time to listen and to get them help. He was voted Most Talented Teacher this year and he entertains at the school's Christmas show for students almost every year. As Head of Media he has every reason to be proud having lifted the A-Level passes to 95 per cent (A-C) and the diploma to 100 per cent."

The glowing essay also noted Williams' introduction of one of the college's most effective education tools — the annual Oscar Awards — where students' films and radio products are showcased to the wider community and students are recognised and praised for their hard work.

Williams, who is also the London correspondent for RJR News, didn't quite believe that he would be picked to carry the Olympic torch.

"When I heard that I had been nominated I was flattered — really touched that there were people out there who thought that I had made a positive impact on their lives and the commnunity. However, I soon pushed it to the back of my mind because, in my mind, there were hundreds of people out there who shine more brightly and would be sure to clinch the opportunity over me. Therefore, when I received the official word that I had been selected I was in disbelief at first, but that soon changed to the kind of excitement that makes you want to dance and hug everyone you see in the street," Williams told the Jamaica Observer.

The sculptural golden torch — designed by east Londoners Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, who won a competitive tender run by the London 2012 Organising Committee and the Design Council — was tested for endurance and functionality by BMW. It is made up of an inner and an outer aluminium alloy skin held in place by a cast top piece and base, perforated by 8,000 circles. These circles represent the inspirational stories of the 8,000 Torchbearers, including Williams.

The perforations also lighten the torch, which weighs 800 grams or 1.7 pounds, which made it easy for Williams to bear the Olympic flame on the brisk jog from Ilford High Road to the Redbridge Town Hall a short distance away.

On July 22, Williams, an avid runner, got dressed in the London 2012 Torchbearers' crisp new white and gold running gear. He was calm but eager to finally hold the torch in his hands.

"The run was no more than 300 yards — about three to six minutes — but the most amazing six minutes. I've been training at the gym regularly for the past three years anyway, so I was basically ready although fitness was not essential.

"Now, when I got on to the shuttle that takes the torchbearer to the starting point I suddenly felt like royalty. The streets were lined with hundreds of people cheering me on and everyone was waving and blowing kisses as the shuttle went by. However, the best moment was the run — I was bursting with excitement as people reached out to touch me and shouted really kind encouragement and congratulations to me — a very warm reception. I heard myself shouting a a shrill, high voice, 'Yeahhhh! Wooooow!' I tried to compose myself but the thrill had taken control of me — definitely the highlight of my life, and I have had many highs," Williams told the Sunday Observer.

The torch was received by the Mayor of Redbridge Muhammed Javed before being passed on to to young

Elise Cobain.

Being a torchbearer in any Olympiad wasn't necessarily a lifelong dream for the outgoing Williams on his journey from Montego Bay, St James to Redbridge. He was born by the sea at the then St James hospital where his mother, Ivy Williams, was the matron at

the time.

The former Cornwall College head boy is also a graduate of The Mico Teacher's College where he also received the JF Mills scholarship to go on to UWI to do a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and French.

Up until 2001, Williams was a news presenter and producer for RJR and co-presented the Smile Jamaica show on TVJ while teaching English, French and Drama. The multi-talented Williams also honed the theatre skills that he would later use to win over his British students in some epic local dramas.

"I sometimes acted in commercial plays especially the national pantomime and plays directed by Lloyd Reckord and the late Trevor Rhone. I also did some television adverts and made brief appearances in soaps such as Royal Palm Estate, Pullet Hall and Lime Tree Lane. I also operated the Portmore Skating Rink and formed the first Jamaica Roller Skating Association, which I chaired for three years.

He has been nominated three times for the Jamaican Actor Boy award (once for Best Actor, twice for Best Supporting Actor).

"There came a point when I wanted to explore something new and the offer of a teaching job in the UK presented itself to me. I arrived in London in August 2001 to teach English. In the first two years I did my master's in media studies and was subsequently appointed Head of the Media Studies Faculty at the college where I teach. Within five years I turned around a failing subject to make it one of those with the highest pass rates. Since then I have been given the Jack Petchey Award for leadership by the borough within which I worked," said Williams.

Still, his heart is still here in Jamaica and he has high hopes for the country as it celebrates 50 years of Independence.

"For all Jamaicans to acknowledge the power of 'The Rock' — so small and yet so mighty," is at the top of his list.

"If we can make such an impact [across the world], how much more powerful would we be if our unity was stronger? I can confidently say that not all that glitters is abroad — there is more gold on 'The Rock' than in all 'developed' countries combined. The gold lies in our people and the natural beauty that makes Jamaica paradise," Williams said.

This is why he will be attending the hockey and volleyball events at the 2012 Olympics, but will watch the other events on his television set right here in Jamaica.

"I'm heading home to Jamaica on fifth August to catch some of the Independence celebrations. I would have preferred to have seen the cycling, swimming and most certainly the 100m and the relays, but there is no way that I would miss the 50th. I can watch the races from home soil," he quipped.

It's uncertain if he will be packing into his suitcase the torch which bore the 'sacred' flames for the 28th Olympiad — which he gets to keep, minus its wick, forever.

True to form, Williams is already mulling over how he can use the keepsake to help raise money for charity, namely a bursary for disabled Jamaican youth.

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