'I made it': Senior officer with terminal illness proud to attend Commonwealth Games

A former West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable who has terminal Motor Neurone Disease was honoured to be a guest at the opening ceremony of this year's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Chris Johnson at the Commonwealth Games
Chris Johnson at the Commonwealth Games

"I made it," said Chris Johnson, who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) nearly four years ago, and would have attended the ceremony as the Gold Commander for the force if he had not been forced to retire due to his condition.

His wife Sharon, also a former West Midlands Police officer who retired earlier this year so she could care for Chris, attended the ceremony with him.

“When we found out Birmingham was going to host the Commonwealth Games, Chris was still at work," Sharon said.

"After he retired following his diagnosis, Chris kept in touch with Ian Reid, the chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, and he was promised an invite to the opening ceremony.

"I remember Chris always said to me, ‘if I’m still here’.

“So, when the invite for the opening ceremony landed, it was so special. We had reached a huge milestone.

“We were at the ceremony, soaking up the atmosphere and Chris looked at me and said ‘I made it’. It was very emotional, as you can imagine, there were lots of tears that day.”

Chris, who was diagnosed with MND in November 2018, had worked at West Midlands Police for 29 years.

He worked up until 2020, when his condition worsened and he was forced to retire.

“When we attended the opening ceremony, we saw lots of old colleagues, who still referred to Chris as ‘boss’, it was very touching.

“The poor woman escorting us was having to stop every few minutes because we kept on bumping into people we knew,” added Sharon.

“We met this one lady, she was helping to run the hockey. She came up to Chris, she held his hand, looked at him and said that she had been working with the police for 11 days and they had all asked if she had met Chris yet. They had all told her what a legend he was.

“Chris never wanted to retire, he would have worked beyond his 30 years if he could. He loved being part of the police, so it was so nice to see people coming over and making a special effort to see him.”

As for the actual ceremony, Sharon, who was born in Birmingham and has lived in the area for her entire life, said it was “phenomenal”.

She said: “It was a real privilege and an honour to be there. I’m a true Brummie me, and I really felt proud to be a Brummie.

“The atmosphere was amazing, I can’t describe it.”

Chris and Sharon Johnson at the Games, with Chief Superintendent Sallie Churchill and the Chief Constable David Thompson

Over the past few months, Chris’ condition has dramatically deteriorated. Other than his fingers, he has lost all movement in his body from the neck down and he relies on Sharon to help him with almost everything, including eating.

“When Chris was diagnosed we both said that we would live for today and nothing would stop us. It’s really important to us that MND doesn’t take over our lives,” Sharon added.

“It took a lot of planning to get him to the ceremony but it was worth it, just to see the smile on his face. We shared so many special moments together.

“Chris was told there was a 60 per cent chance that he would be dead two years after diagnosis and now, we’re nearly four years in and we feel very lucky.”

The couple, who met in the force and married in 2001, have two children, aged 17 and 12, together.

Sharon was given extra copies of the event programmes and two toy Commonwealth Games mascots, that she can add to the memory boxes she is making on behalf of Chris, for their children.

“People talk with their eyes and I could see the joy in Chris’ eyes as we watched the ceremony,” said Sharon. She added: “It was just so lovely to see.

“I could see it in his face, he was having the best time. He was so pleased he was able to be part of the Games in some way.”

Chris and Sharon also attended the closing ceremony of the Games, which was “equally as amazing”.

“Well, Ozzy Osbourne is the ultimate Brummy isn’t he? So, when he came out on stage, it was such a huge shock to everyone. It was amazing. Both ceremonies were unbelievable and it’s memories with Chris that I will be able to treasure forever.”

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