Sasha Ratcliffe who is running with the Olympic Torch on the 8 June
Sasha Ratcliffe is one in a million. The mum of two young boys from Ayr has faced Olympic-sized challenges since both her children were born with different disabilities – but she has still tirelessly fundraised more than £23,000 to help others.
Inspired by her positive and upbeat personality, Sasha's sister Laura Balfour nominated her to become one of the 8,000 Torchbearers to carry the Olympic Torch as it journeys around the UK. Having initially thought Laura was joking about the nomination, Sasha was speechless when she heard she was one of 38 people selected to carry the Torch through South Ayrshire on Friday 8 June.
It was while Sasha, 37, was pregnant with her first son Dylan – now 8 – that she discovered he had Hypoplastic Left Heart, which means he would be born with half a heart. At just six days old, Dylan was flown to Birmingham Children's Hospital for the first of three life-saving operations. Two years later Sasha and her husband gave birth to their second son, Jack – now 5. Within a few months they discovered he had Global Development Delay which affects both physical and mental development.
"Dylan is mentally fine but physically he can get quite tired and breathless – he will probably have a heart transplant when he is in his teens," says Sasha. "Jack is five but mentally is more like a two-year-old. Everything just takes a lot longer with him. He gets very frustrated as he can't speak properly and we have to help feed him. If Jack is in a good mood, everybody is in a good mood."
Since Dylan, who attends Doonfoot Primary School, was born, Sasha and her husband Murray, who is a Development Manager, have raised thousands of pounds for the Little Hearts Matter charity which has given them endless support over the past eight years. Three years ago, along with her friend Carol McKnight, Sasha set up Spotty Zebras, an Ayr-based support group for families with children with a moderate to severe disability. The couple continually fundraise for Spotty Zebras.
In addition, Sasha also volunteers at Ayr's Southcraig School which provides specialist support for pupils with additional support needs – and she has also volunteered at Doonfoot Primary.
This super-mum couldn't quite believe it when she got emails from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) telling her she was to be one of the first in Scotland to carry the Olympic Torch as it travels through South Ayrshire on 8 June.
"I didn't really take any notice of the Olympic nominations process until my sister Laura sent me a text to say she had nominated me," says Sasha. "I thought she was joking then I started getting emails saying I was being considered. I found out a couple of months ago that I had been selected. I think it will be quite nerve wracking on the day.
"I hope I don't drop it," she laughs. "It will be quite overwhelming to have so many friends and family watch me carry it in Ayr – Laura and my brother are both coming up from London to see me. If Murray, Dylan and Jack could run with me or beside me it would just be great. Murray has done so much fundraising with me, so this really is a team effort."
Together, the couple have raised more than £23,000 through sponsored hill walks up Goatfell on Arran, doing 5k and 10k runs, half and full marathons, a bungee jump, and collecting funds from raffles and collection boxes.
In her Torch nomination, Laura wrote: "Sasha hasn't exactly had an easy ride through life. Her first child, Dylan, was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart syndrome which meant spending his first months in hospital and continual operations since then. His brother Jack followed two years later and, as he grew up, it became apparent that he had suffered from severe developmental delay.
"While this might be enough to knock most people for six, not only has Sasha remained relentlessly upbeat and positive but, in her very limited spare time, has thrown herself into fundraising for Little Heart Matters, setting up Spotty Zebras (a support group for families of children with significant special needs) and is planning to train as a social worker as soon as Jack is settled in his school. She is the most selfless person I have ever met and Ayrshire is very lucky to have her."
Along with Carrie McKnight, Sasha organises the monthly meetings for the 29 families who presently attend Spotty Zebras every third Sunday of the month. However, now that Jack is attending Dalmilling School, she is also volunteering as a Support Worker through Southcraig School in order to give other parents respite, and will be taking up the post of Classroom Assistant in South Ayrshire after the summer school holidays.
"I love helping at Southcraig School," says Sasha. "Jack has his own support worker who comes every fortnight so I thought it was just good to help other people in the same situation. I am also really looking forward to becoming a Classroom Assistant."
She adds: "Setting up Spotty Zebras has been great for us as a family – there are volunteers who play with Jack, Dylan has some friends there too, and Murray and I can relax for a couple of hours. Our family life is normal to us but to other people it can seem noisy at times. There are people out there who understand. If anyone else is in a similar situation they need to increase their support network. If family and friends can help bear the burden then let them. It will get easier. And come along to Spotty Zebras as it is for the whole family, the children, parents, carers and siblings.
"I really believe the Olympic Torch coming to Scotland, and in particular to South Ayrshire, is great for the community. The build-up to it is great – it is really bringing everyone together. Southcraig School are hoping to get the class that I help with to come and support me on the route. That really will be fantastic."
For details on Sasha and the other Torchbearers running in South Ayrshire, log on to www.south-ayrshire.gov.uk/olympictorchrelay