Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Canadian happy-Leigh flying the flag for her country in east Belfast

Jan-Leigh and son Elijah in their east Belfast home

Oh Canada - It may be a along way from home but east Belfast's Jan-Leigh Saunders has never felt more passionate about her roots

This week Mrs Saunders, who lives on the Cregagh estate with her husband Mark and newly-born son Elijah, was given the surprise honour of leading out her home nation at the World Police and Fire Games opening ceremony.

Around 16,000 people watched as volunteer Jan-Leigh carried the national flag in front of 530 Canadian competitors, something she never even dreamt about when she signed up.

"When I lived in Canada I always volunteered for events, I enjoy being involved and when I knew the Games were coming up I couldn't miss the chance of being involved in something remarkable.

"When I signed up it wasn't for a specific role, it was just to be involved in any capacity. It was a greater honour to find out then that I would lead out the team.

"The police, fire and rescue services do a difficult and demanding job and more often than not don't get the appreciation that they deserve. I just wanted the chance to help out in any role I could to show my support."

Mrs Saunders met her husband Mark, an east Belfast native, when the pair worked in Walt Disney World Resort in Florida together in 2002. The nationality link runs deeper as at the time Jan-Leigh was working in the Canadian pavillion of the Epcot theme park while Mark was working in the UK pavillion.

Since moving to east Belfast in 2003, the pair are now married and will celebrate their fifth year wedding anniversary next week.

A total of 7,000 competitors from 67 different countries are visiting Northern Ireland to take part in the games bringing with them thousands of spectators, and tourists.

"Northern Ireland is a great place and Belfast is a wonderful city. The Games have been a great opportunity for visitors to enjoy and experience it. Belfast is a beautiful city and it needs to get recognition for it," said Jan-Leigh.

"There has been a great buzz around the city since the opening of the Games and to hear all the different accents and see the different uniforms out and about is wonderful. Speaking to some of the athletes it's great to hear them comment on how helpful and friendly the people are and it's something Northern Ireland can be very proud of."

"To mark the event anywhere in the world would still have been a great honour but to be able to do it in Northern Ireland and in my new home city was an unbelievable and humbling experience," she added.

Jan-Leigh will turn flag-bearer once again this weekend as she performs a similar role for the closing ceremony of the games.

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