Leeds welcomes British Transplant Games competitors in Millennium Square opening day parade

Leeds welcomed hundreds of competitors of the British Transplant Games to the city centre today in a huge opening day parade.

The eagerly-anticipated event will see hundreds of transplant recipients competing in a wide range of sports at venues across the city over four excitement-filled days starting on Thursday (July 28).

A parade of nearly 900 participating athletes set off from Victoria Gardens at 6.30pm before heading up Cookridge Street to Millennium Square.

The ceremony - hosted by BBC presenter Tanya Arnold - saw the lighting of the Games flame, speeches and musical entertainment which was supplied by former Voice UK contestant Janine Dyer.

British Transplant Games in Millennium Square - Leeds Team

Hundreds of members of the public attended and cheered on the competitors on Thursday night.

Addressing the crowds, the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Robert W Gettings, said: "It’s wonderful for our city to host such an event.

"I am looking forward to seeing some memorable sporting performances.

"I hope the competitors, their families and people of Leeds have a great five days.

Theo with sister Mia

"Welcome to everyone, welcome."

One of the competitors attending the Games was 17-year-old Theo Bowens - a recipient of a kidney transplant on three separate occasions.

Speaking to the YEP, his mum Rebecca said it was amazing to see so many competitors in their home city of Leeds.

This would be Theo's final year competing in the children's category and he will be cycling a tandem bike and running.

British Transplant Games in Millennium Square - Janine Heap

"We are all here to celebrate the children", Rebecca said.

"It is a time to get together as a family and everyone bonds together."

Theo's family - who brought along their team's mascot 'Boy' the dog - has been attending for many years.

"It is really special", Rebecca said.

Eunice Booker had travelled from Kent as part of the Donor Family Network - a group who have lost loved ones who have subsequently donated their organs.

Eunice lost her daughter in 2006 and donated her organs.

She said her family loved seeing the competitors in action and saw it as a "legacy" for her daughter.

"We have seen these children grow up", she said.

"We have been coming since 2012, it is like one big family.

"Seeing them taking part is amazing."

Leeds resident Janine Heap has had two kidney transplants and is due to compete in Table Tennis at the games for the third time.

Janine was very excited the Games was being held in Leeds this year.

"Everyone is buzzing", she told the YEP.

Members of the public are welcome to attend any element of the sporting programme, with full details of what is happening and where available from the Games website.

First staged in 1978, the Games are held in a different city each year to raise awareness of the life-saving benefits of transplantation. They also aim to encourage families to speak with each other about their organ donation wishes at a time when more than 6,000 people in the UK are waiting for a transplant.

The participating athletes in Leeds will range in age from just three to over 80, with everyone from beginners to experts getting the chance to go for sporting glory. The majority of those taking part are transplant recipients, although living donors and the loved ones of deceased donors will also be lining up for events.