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Homecoming turns into gruelling saga

PUBLISHED: 13:08 07 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:18 06 July 2010

EXCITEMENT turned to chaos for four talented Lowestoft teenagers when a trip to Sweden for their first-ever international athletics championships was disrupted by the aftermath of the volcanic ash-cloud - leaving them with a gruelling 40-hour journey home by coach.

EXCITEMENT turned to chaos for four talented Lowestoft teenagers when a trip to Sweden for their first-ever international athletics championships was disrupted by the aftermath of the volcanic ash-cloud - leaving them with a gruelling 40-hour journey home by coach.

The aspiring Paralympic athletes from the Ashley School - Lewis Pryke, Chelsea Dixon, Kimberley Aspland, Holly Durbidge - had travelled with their teacher and coach Jackie Milton to make their overseas debuts for the UK Sports Association's Great Britain team at the Senior World Championships.

But after enjoying “an excellent time”, according to Mrs Milton, with a number of personal bests and fine performances, they fell foul of the flight turmoil caused by the Icelandic volcano.

The problems saw their flight home cancelled, and meant that their proposed five-day trip turned into a nine-night saga and a 40-hour coach journey home through six countries.

“While the championships were going on we realised we might not get a flight home,” Mrs Milton said.

“We looked at hiring a minibus, but the only way we could get home was to team up with other nations and book a coach journey,”

The GB team officials held a meeting and decided to get together with the Dutch and French teams as well as researchers from Belgium who were making notes ahead of the 2012 Paralympics.

“We were told we would have to pay a total of 7,000 Euros to get home,” said Mrs Milton.

“The next day we were due to decide if this was viable, but because of all the problems the coach trip went up to 8,000 euros - so we had no real choice to pay that.”

The problems all happened during the trip last month.

The squad of six - with four of the GB athletes from Lowestoft - were due to depart for home on Monday, April 19 - but the earliest flight they could have left on would have been on April 22.

After leaving Sweden at midday on Tuesday, April 20 they went through Denmark, Germany, Belgium and France before arriving at Calais for a ferry home at 5pm on Wednesday, April 21.

After meeting the school's deputy headteacher Roger Milton - Mrs Milton's husband - at Dover, the squad were then driven home to Lowestoft…..eventually arriving at 3.30am on Thursday, April 22.

“It was quite an experience in itself,” Mrs Milton said. “The athletes coped very, very well and the camaraderie between us on the trip was brilliant. What was a five-day trip turned into nine evenings away, but it was a tremendous event and it will go down in history as one that the youngsters will never forget.”

For more on the team's sporting success, see Journal Sport, page 72.

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