Belfast Telegraph

World Police and Fire Games: From our everyday heroes to sporting superstars

As Northern Ireland hosts the World Police and Fire Games, we talk to a competitor from each of our three services about their passion for sport. By Stephanie Bell

Thousands of people from every corner of the globe have arrived in Northern Ireland for a rare treat of 10 action packed days of world-class sport. The statistics alone speak for the scale and prestige of the 2013 World Police and Fire Games.

 

Almost 7,000 elite athletes and thousands more family, friends and visitors from 67 countries will compete in 56 different sports at 42 venues across Northern Ireland.

And this spectacular sporting showcase — the third largest multi-sport event in the world — is free to the public. Olympic Gold Medal winner Dame Mary Peters, who played a part in securing the Games for Northern Ireland, has described it as “our Olympics”.

A small army of 3,500 volunteers have been signed up to help out and Belfast city centre will enjoy the buzz of the activity of an athlete’s village set up in Custom House Square.

Hundreds of retired and serving members of the police, prison service and fire service from Northern Ireland will be taking part.

We talked to three competitors from each service about what the games mean to them and how their passion for sport has impacted on their roles in the services.

PSNI Chief Inspector Sue Steen (42), Area Commander for Omagh and Fermanagh, is the PSNI Team Captain for the World Games. Sue is from Belfast and has been in the police for 18 years and has a long-term partner. She says:

I only ever wanted to be in the police from a young age. My mum advised me to go to university first and then see if I still wanted to join. I did a degree, then travelled to the US for a few months. When I came back I still knew that the police was for me.

I just wanted to do a job which allowed me to help people and be involved in supporting the community. The danger aspect at the time never came into it for me, all that was important was doing the job to the best of my ability. Yes, there are risks, but that has thankfully never been an issue for me.

I also have to say that I have never experienced a negative issue because of my gender nor have I found it an advantage.

From a sports perspective, I think both the RUC and the PSNI tended to be traditionally male dominated so it was great that from around the Eighties onwards more women got involved. I played hockey for the RUC and then the PSNI for many years until a couple

of years ago when I retired due to injury. I now cycle and I am chair of the police hockey club. I’ve always been a keen enjoyer of and participator in sport.

Sport is an important part of what we do in the police service and how we interact with each other and the local community. A lot of our teams are involved in local leagues so there is a lot of interaction socially with the local community.

I feel extremely proud and flattered to be asked to captain the PSNI team. I think it would be fair to say a few years ago we wouldn’t have been able to anticipate such an enormous undertaking or been able to host it.

It’s another big chance for us as a community to show what we have to offer. The G8 was very successful and showcased Fermanagh and now we have another chance to encourage visitors to come to Northern Ireland.

“I set up a committee last September and we have been meeting once a month to take care of the admin side of things and welfare issues and preparation for the Games and the teams.

I’m enjoying the opportunity to be an ambassador for the teams and support as many teams and events that I can.

I have worked out a schedule and I will be trying to talk to and visit as many teams and competitors as I can throughout the event and deal with any issues that they might have. Mine is a very broad role.

We have at least 360 retired and serving officers taking part in practically all of the events, except for one or two.

I’m absolutely delighted that we are hosting the games. Many of the events are open to the public free of charge and I would encourage people to go along and see some good sport and enjoy themselves.

Firefighter, adventurer and mountaineer Terence ‘Banjo’ Bannon (45), from Newry, is well-known as the second person from Northern Ireland to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2003. He is married to American Lauren O’Malley, whom he met at 18,000ft on Everest and they have two children, Conor (6) and Rowan (2). Banjo is taking part in the Ultimate Fire Fighter challenge at the Games. He says:

I grew up in Newry surrounded by the Mournes and the Cooley Mountains so from a young age I was canoeing and rock climbing. I went from rock climbing locally to ice and rock climbing in Scotland, the Alps and North and South America. The pinnacle for me was climbing Everest, which we did with no back up or support.

In 2006, when we were 150 metres from the summit of K2, an avalanche killed two in our group. I have lost 15 friends through the years mountain climbing. I’ve been quite lucky considering the amount of rock falls and avalanches and people falling past me when climbing.

Mountain climbing is a big dream but it has big consequences. After K2 I just felt gratitude. I’m still climbing and had planned to go to Switzerland to do the Aargau but the World Police and Fire Games came up and I decided to make the effort and take part in them instead.

I joined the fire service two years ago. I’ve always worked with kids and I have a number of jobs, one of which is working with high risk young people at a centre in Dundalk. I am also an instructor for rock climbing and canoeing and do a lot of work with charities, organising climbing events for them and have probably helped raise £1m over the years for lots of different charities.

I got a lot out of the community and I wanted to give something back and I thought joining the fire service would allow me to do that. There was also the excitement of the job and the fact that you have to be fit. I’ve reverted back to myself through the fire service. At a certain age people let themselves go and I’ve regenerated myself and I think I am fitter now than I ever was. That’s all part of being in the fire service — you have to keep mentally and physically fit.

The service is very different now to what it was years ago and only about 40% of it is attending fires; the rest is special services such as helping kids who get their fingers trapped in bicycle wheels. No one day is the same and when you get a call and jump into that machine you have just one or two minutes to get to the fire; you don’t know what is ahead of you and there is a real adrenalin rush and excitement.

I believe a lot of lives have been saved through the community education on fire safety.

I think it is fantastic that the World Games are in Northern Ireland. It has been downplayed but I know a lot of lads and girls who are flat out training and people are going to see a good show.

No one is going at it half heartedly; there are a lot of great sports people taking part. It’s putting Northern Ireland on the world stage and people should get behind it. It’s just fantastic that it has come to us and we are so lucky to have it here.

I’m getting excited and hopefully I won’t make too many mistakes.

Eric Winterbottom (62) is a retired prison|officer from Coleraine who is competing in the javelin, long jump, bench press, push pull and indoor rowing events at the Games. Eric is married to Elizabeth (62) and they have three children and five grandchildren. Last year he cleaned up at the open rowing championships winning the British, Irish, Welsh, English and European competitions. He says:

I’m originally from Yorkshire but moved to Northern Ireland 40 years ago when I met my wife. I was in the prison service for 35 years, first at the Maze and then Magilligan. I was a dog handler and for the last 12 years before I retired in January I was a dog handler instructor.

Being a dog handler I didn’t see as much as the rest of the staff who were in the prison as I was mostly outside. During the Troubles and the Hunger Strikes and the protests I suppose I got the easy part because I was working as a dog handler.

I’ve always enjoyed sport and in the Eighties I was into marathons and did three in Dublin, two in London and the Belfast Marathon three times. Then, in 2001, I started rowing. Indoor rowing would be my main sport.

I have now taken part in the World Police and Fire Games six times — in Indianopolis in 2001, Barcelona in 2003, Quebec in 2005, Adelaide in 2007, Vancouver in 2009 and New York in 2011.

For me, part of the buzz was not just the training but getting to visit somewhere new and going to places where I probably would never have gone.

The athletes do take it very seriously and there is a big buzz. Getting the Games to Northern Ireland was a brilliant achiement and I was in Adelaide when we won the bid and Dame Mary Peters played a big role with her speech.

So far they have done a very good job in Northern Ireland and hopefully the recent trouble we’ve had won’t put people off.

A history of the third-largest multi-sport event in the world

World Police and Fire Games is a biennial event for serving and retired police, fire, prison and border security officers.

WPFG is the third largest international multi-sport event in the world and will be the largest ever sporting event to take place in Northern Ireland. l The 2013 Games will have more competitors than any previous Commonwealth Games.

The first Games were held in 1985, and they were established by a body known as the World Police and Fire Games Federation, based in San Diego.

Belfast won the right to stage these Games following a very competitive bid process, back in 2007.

This is the first time that the Games are being hosted in the British Isles.

Approximately 3,600 volunteers are helping deliver the ‘friendliest Games ever’ and will create a diverse pool of skilled volunteers for future events in Northern Ireland.

It is also hoped that the Games will enhance the image of the emergency services and lead to greater respect for those services, especially amongst young people.

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