MORE than 1,000 people gave Paralympic hero Mark Colbourne a golden welcome in his home town. CHRIS WOOD was there.
THE medals around Mark Colbourne’s neck were the reason for Saturday’s celebrations- but, the Paralympian hopes it is his incredible journey from near-death to world beater that will inspire a generation of Gwent people.
Mr Colbourne made an emotional return to his hometown of Tredegar, where he praised mum Margaret for helping him through some "terrible, horrible times" and brought back the gold medal that was one of dad Cecil’s last wishes.
Over 1,000 people lined the streets of the town to welcome home their hero, with Mr Colbourne posing for pictures next to the gold post box in his honour and waving to the crowds from an open top bus.
The cyclist scooped a gold and two silvers at the Paralympics, a feat even he didn’t think possible after he broke his back and lower leg paralysis in a paragliding accident just three years ago.
In an emotional speech at Bedwellty Park, he said: "To be here is amazing, I almost ended in nearby Ebbw Vale cemetery, they were tough times that my mum and my family supported me through.
"They were terrible, horrible times that are behind me now. You (the people of Tredegar) spurred me on and my father was there with me in spirit. He’d be very proud indeed."
Mr Colbourne said he hopes his achievements will put modern Tredegar on the map, just like NHS founder Aneurin Bevan did in the past, saying: ‘Hopefully what I did will inspire people who have had a life-changing occurrence. Don’t give up."
The day had started on the outskirts of Tredegar next to the Bevan Stones - where around 50 people gathered, including many members of Mr Colbourne’s family.
Uncle Harry Williams said: "When his dad died earlier this year, it was one of his last wishes for Mark to bring the gold home. He did, what strength of character."
Cousin Darren Williams added: "He was such an athletic guy and after the accident we thought he’d never even walk again.
But, to achieve this, incredible."
Another cousin, Matthew Cahill, 33, said: "We’re proud of the medals, but we’re more proud of the journey. It was awful what happened, but he was never down-hearted, always positive."
Local woman Pam Evans, 60, was another boarding the bus. She had carried the Olympic torch through Treorchy- as the relay didn’t pass through her home town.
She said: "Thanks to Mark, I can do it today as part of the celebrations."
Mr Colbourne had left Manchester at 6.30am to be there, but the 11am departure was delayed as excited children besieged him for photos and autographs.
He then strolled on to the bus joking "all this bling, I feel a bit like Jimmy Savile" as he took the medals out of his pocket and put them around his neck.
As the bus wound its way down Beaufort Road, through Nantybwch and past Deighton Primary, hundreds of people lined the streets, waving flags, while others hung from their windows calling to their hero.
Around 500 people crowded around the golden post box and a similar amount around the town clock, with the bus travelling around it twice to milk the applause.
It was then to Bedwellty Park, where organisers of the event, Tredegar Town Council presented him with the freedom of the town during a ceremony on the bandstand.
Former council stalwart, and only surviving recipient, Megan Fox, handed it over before the event had a traditionally rousing Welsh finale.
Mr Colbourne joined the Tredegar Orpheus Male Voice Choir for a rendition of Land of My Fathers before heading to a special reception in Bedwellty House.
Locals are backing our campaign to get Mr Colbourne honoured for his achievements.
Elizabeth Phillips, 75, from Beaufort said: "I’ve followed him avidly and am so proud. It is wonderful and someone from Tredegar or Blaenau Gwent achieving this might never happen again."
Angela Edwards, 65, said: "It’s fantastic we are acknowledging what he achieved. He is an inspiration."
Stephen Roberts, 45, from Tredegar, said: "He had a tough time and if anyone deserves to be honoured, he does."