Heritage Flame Lighting Ceremony to include Paralympian skier Kelly Gallagher

The skier who won Britain’s first-ever Winter Paralympic gold medal will play a key role at tomorrow’s Heritage Flame Lighting ceremony in Bucks, organisers confirmed today.

Kelly Gallagher, who made history for the GB team at Sochi two years ago, will take centre stage with Baroness Grey-Thompson at the televised event at Stoke Mandeville Stadium.

Gallagher, the first athlete from Northern Ireland to compete in the Winter Paralympics, said: “I can’t wait to be part of this celebration of the start of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Stoke Mandeville is a special place for Paralympians and I think this ceremony will be a really memorable event for all of us who are involved, whatever role we play.”

The 31-year-old, who suffers from oculocutaneous albinism, a condition that affects the pigment of her skin, hair and eyes, is also the first athlete from her country to win a medal of any kind at the World Championships level.

The flame lighting ceremony is part of the lead-up to the Rio games. Stoke Mandeville, as the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, is the only venue outside the host nation of Brazil to play a role in creating the Paralympic Flame. The Heritage Flame will combine with others travelling to Rio from across Brazil to ignite the flame which marks the start of the Paralympic Games. This tradition began two years ago before the Sochi Winter Games.

The Heritage Flame will be lit at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in front of an audience of 1400 VIPs and ticket ballot winners from 7pm on September 2. Meanwhile, thousands more will celebrate the occasion from 6pm in Aylesbury’s Vale Park.

Baroness Grey-Thompson, a former wheelchair racer who is one of the most successful athletes in British history, urged the public to flock to the event in the park, particularly as a way of cheering on the GB team who are competing in Rio from September 7.

“It’s going to be a massive celebration and a really good party,” she said. “People should come along – it shows the support for the Paralympics. It’s a great way to wish good luck to the team who are going out there.”

Martin McElhatton, member of the Bucks Legacy Board which has organised the Heritage Flame Lighting Ceremony, said: “As the place where the Paralympic movement began it is important for Stoke Mandeville to play its part in supporting the success of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. This event will celebrate the achievements of Paralympians throughout the decades and the inspirational vision of founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann.

“Thanks to Arts Council England and our partners we are able to make this a truly memorable occasion and it’s not too late for other organisations to show their support and solidarity. It is wonderful that we can send the Heritage Flame and our good luck wishes to everyone taking part in the Games in Rio from the spiritual home here at Stoke Mandeville.”