Bearing the Olympic Torch
A Torchbearer’s Sweet Memories Along America’s Back Roads
My eyes were welling, so I took a deep breath. It wouldn’t be right to shed tears while receiving the Olympic flame. It was May 1984, and this would be the last time I would bear the Olympic torch on its way to the Los Angeles Coliseum. The magnificence of the preceding days was coming to an end. I had been on the road with my Olympic Torch Cadre Team for a week. We’d traveled 1,200 miles through six states and the District of Columbia. We carried it to President Ronald Reagan at the White House, through state capitals, over river bridges and the mountainous eastern Continental Divide. I choked back another tear drop.
The lead car was 200 meters away. My torch-mate, and that glorious orange fire, seemed to float as they drew near. The flame bobbed with each footfall. My adrenaline surged as it had before each of the 60 miles I had carried the flame, or escorted other bearers, these most magical of days.
I am so emotionally and physically exhausted. We have run long and very fast this week, sometimes touching five-minute miles, to stay on schedule. This package from Greece cannot be late arriving in L.A. a few weeks from now. A lone torchbearer of great fame will be waiting for the final handoff and the honor of officially opening the XXIIIrd Olympiad.
I am surprised my body has any adrenaline left at all. My legs are warmed up, and ready for the exchange; lightheaded, there’s no more time for reflection — it’s time to work — four miles with five pounds of fire and spirit in my hands, and an uphill to start.
I am on a stretch of lonely morning road outside Cleveland, turning over the still-fresh memories of late last night. Youngstown’s streets were jam-packed with tens of thousands of cheering Americans. A massive American flag spanned the city street, connecting two huge buildings on either side. I had a challenging hill to climb just ahead. As I neared the summit, a line of truckers unleashed their blaring horns. Shouts of USA. USA. USA. It preceded us everywhere we’ve been, in the cities to the sparsely populated mountains of West Virginia. Pride rings in my ears. But the roar of the flame there is louder. Only a handful of men and women have heard that flame as closely as it sings to me now. Stay strong, it commands. We have a date to keep.
A frenzied crowd has stayed up late and awaits ahead. They are a bellows of welcome. Louder they become as I near them, chanting USA, USA. Then a lone voice from a sidewalk breaks clear: “Hold that torch proudly young man!” I strain with an arm too weary. I do not know where I will find the strength. Then the spirit of the Games fills me, and gives me what I need to hoist it to its greatest height.
It is now the year 2021, and I still get chills. The torch sits in a place of honor in my home. My mind’s eye recalls the glory. At age 71 my palms begin to sweat and my heartbeat boils — just as it did for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. And as I watch streaming re-runs of new world records in the Tokyo ’20 COVID-delayed games, it all comes back. I join the world awash in good feeling, reveling in sport and good sportsmanship. I once carried that flame, and that message.