Big crowd turns out to cheer on Wangaratta's champs in baton relay

Para-athlete Michael Fawkner has competed and won at plenty of national events, but it was the Queen’s Baton Relay on Wednesday that had him feeling “pumped and excited”.

The national record holder in shot put, javelin and discus had the privilege of completing the final leg of the Wangaratta relay, running the baton into Apex Park to huge cheers from a healthy crowd that came along to watch.

“It’s such an honour to represent Wangaratta, I’m just so pumped up and I hope it works for me when I go to the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games and this week to compete in the Australian Track and Field Championships,” Fawkner said.

One of the crowd favourites was another para-athlete Nick Morris, who said the event was just as special as the 2000 Olympic torch relay.

“It’s just great to come home to Mum and Dad and all your friends and do it, which is terrific,” he said.

“It gives a reason for the local community to celebrate and put themselves back on a pedestal.

“It’s not often country towns get put on the map, but it’s Wangaratta’s turn today.”

Morris – who uses a wheelchair himself – is working as a consultant for the Commonwealth Games, helping to design all the accessibility for the grandstands and transport.

Police Blue Ribbon Foundation North East president Sergeant Colleen Sheridan, young skateboarder Hayley Wilson, Wangaratta Carevan chair Michelle Kennedy and long-time CFA volunteer Dorothy Wise were among the other baton bearers.

The Commonwealth Games will always hold a soft spot in my heart. There’s things I miss about it, but I’m really excited about the life I’m living now.

Medal-winning swimmer Belinda Hocking

Wangaratta-born swimmer and Commonwealth Games medalist Belinda Hocking had the honour of beginning the relay.

She said she was excited to be back and hoped more young people would be inspired to compete in sport.

“The Commonwealth Games will always hold a soft spot in my heart. There’s things I miss about it, but I’m really excited about the life I’m living now.”

Since retiring from international competition, Hocking still tries to swim once or twice a week and is doing education and ambassador work for the Australia Olympic Committee.