It was a day to remember for nine-year-old James Smith and his family as they were invited to a behind the scenes tour of Tigers’ Oval Park training ground as part of a Wishes4Kids visit.
Unbeknown to James, his mum Debbie had contacted the Wishes4Kids charity, who aim to grant ‘wishes’ for children in Leicestershire who are life limited, terminally ill or have experienced life-changing physical or emotional traumas, sharing his dream to meet the Leicester Tigers players.
James has a rare genetic condition called Weidemann Stenier Syndrome and is a huge Tigers fan – his favourite player being club captain Tom Youngs.
Mum Debbie, dad Neil, Gary Lowe from Wishes4Kids and BBC Radio Leicester’s afternoon show host Jimmy Carpenter who helped arrange the visit, surprised James by taking him to Oval Park and a chance to watch the team train.
The group had a personal tour of the training facilities exploring the coach’s offices, medical room, players changing rooms, gym and kit room bumping into some familiar faces along the way, such as Tigers full-back Telusa Veainu and head coach Geordan Murphy.
Murphy presented James with a ‘Tom Youngs’ Tigers shirt and Tigers prop Ellis Genge gave the youngster his match-worn (and match-ripped) shirt he wore for his return from injury this season against Bristol.
There was one more surprise left in store for James as, after watching the team take part in their morning training session, his favourite player Tom Youngs came to say hello and sign his Tigers shirt.
That’s not all, Tom also shared the news that James would be leading the team out as an official club mascot when Tigers play Harlequins at Welford Road this coming Saturday, December 22 (3.00pm).
James then joined the lads for some line-out practise with Tigers forwards Sione Kalamafoni and Ross McMillan as well as joining the post-training huddle and meeting the whole team.
The team from BBC Radio Leicester captured the day, which featured as thier ‘Christmas Magical Moment’ on their afternoon show aired on December 21.
You can listen and watch James’s visit to Oval Park in full at the link below.
James’s mum Debbie said of the visit: “James is a happy-go-lucky boy and loves making people laugh. He has a massive passion for rugby which stems from his dad, we have season tickets at Tigers, and he’s always very vocal so to come here today and meet the players has made his dreams come true.
“James was born with Weidemann Stenier Syndrome, which is a mutated gene and was really poorly as a young baby. He wasn’t diagnosed until 2015 after his DNA was tested. There are about 400 people across the world who have been diagnosed with the syndrome. James has mild learning difficulties and had difficulties with his speech and muscle tone when he was younger.
Nothing seems to faze him and today has been truly amazing. He absolutely loves rugby and everyone has been so welcoming. All the coaches and staff have come up and said hello and helped him to forget about his condition and we can’t wait to see him lead out the team this weekend!”
Gary Lowe, charity manager for Wishes4Kids, added: “I picked up James and his family this morning – he knew nothing about the visit – and we drove him here to Oval Park and what a day he’s had. He’s met the players, gone behind the scenes and will now be a mascot on Saturday which he’s over the moon with.
“We aim to grant the wishes of children across Leicestershire who are suffer from all kinds of conditions with experiences, visits, gadgets and toys – anything they want and so a huge thank you to everyone at Leicester Tigers and BBC Radio Leicester for helping make today happen.”