Olympic Torchbear Experience
By Tammie Thompson
I'm still glowing. It's been just a couple of days since I carried the Olympic Torch, but an incredible buzz remains.
I really didn't think it would be that big of a deal. Sure I was excited, especially when I put on my white sweat suit and white Olympic ringed hat. I had spent a little bit of time "training" for my short run (two-tenths of a mile).
So on the morning of January 20, I was a bit primed for the experience. My daughter had a Mighty Mite race at Squaw. I had hoped to see her negotiate her first G.S. But I had to report in at the temporary Torch Relay headquarters a couple of hours prior to my segment.
There was an orientation (how hard could this be?). They told us we would be treated like "rock stars". That the experience might be a bit overwhelming. I was dubious. It just didn't click.
My group of eight torchbearers and support runners boarded a shuttle bus to wait for the torch's arrival from Truckee. Immediately we were swarmed by spectators, taking photos of the bus, waving Coca-cola flags (sponsor), and just plain enjoying the festivities. We were parked near the entrance to Squaw Valley and hundreds of people were lining up along the road and near the 1960 Olympic flame.
Having a little time before the torch arrived, we shared our stories of how it was that we came to be on the bus. In just a few minutes, my life was humbled, buoyed, and celebrated by these stories. There was the gentleman who had worked for 26 years in a nursing home. He's not sure who nominated him to run with the torch. One of the residents, a 102-year-old woman, cried for two hours when she heard he was running. Or the quadriplegic young man who once was a competitive diver, who was just happy to be here. Or the teacher whose students helped pay for his trip to Tahoe and his keepsake torch. Or Andrea Mead Lawrence, winner of two gold medals in 1952, who told about how she carried the Olympic Torch at Squaw Valley in 1960, pregnant with her daughter who nominated her for this torch run.
I told about how I had written an essay about how the Olympic spirit lives in all of us. How ordinary people can do extraordinary things. And this bus proved it. I wrote of how happy I was to be able to live in an area that offered up so much, how moving to Squaw Valley had changed the way I lived, and how much I needed that mountain experience when my own life was challenged. I wrote how easy it is to dismiss our lives, but when we have a timer set (even it we don't know for how long), how much more precious it becomes.
The crowd roared as the "official" torch rolled in. Coca-cola and Chevrolet caravans hyped the crowd with giveaways. Our first torchbearer was readied and the spell was cast. Andrea Mead Lawrence and I were to be transported in another vehicle, so we stood at the side of the road as the torch went by. With camera crews and spectators, it was a frenzy that was to continue.
I was to meet the cross-country skier coming across Squaw meadow. I wasn't prepared for the crowd awaiting our hand-off. My family was there, and my friends. But strangers were asking for autographs and photos. And then the torch came skating across the snow. Before I could breathe I was meeting the flame and off and running by the 1960 Olympic hospitality building, past the site of the 1960 ski jumping, towards another historic Olympic building. At the head of the crowd, I didn't even know that I had hundreds of people running behind. The Truckee Boy Scouts, in red sweatshirts, set a vivid picture.
The hand-off was completed swiftly and without incident. Then I breathed. I was grinning. Wow.
The torch made its way up the cable car, around the ice rink, through three downhill skiers. Then it was passed off to Squaw's founder, Alex Cushing. By now the media frenzy was in full bloom. I indeed felt like a rock star. Lots and lots of photos. Autographs? Sharing the torch and more. Wow.
Then the torch was on its way to Tahoe City and South Shore. We were just one stop in the torch's 13,000-mile journey through 46 states. My fifteen minutes of fame were over. But the torch's flame stays with me. And I'm glowing, thinking of how incredibly lucky I am to have been a part of it. Wow.
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2002 Winter Olympics