Lo­cal torch­bear­ers re­flect on once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity

The Compass - - NEWS - BY DANIEL MACEACHERN dmaceach­ern@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Sev­eral years ago, Ros­alie Rus­sell looked in the mir­ror and didn’t like what she saw looking back at her: an over­weight woman, twice-di­vorced by the time her daugh­ter was grad­u­at­ing from high school.

“I’d packed on the weight like you couldn’t be­lieve,” said Rus­sell. “So I ended up los­ing 80 pounds in a year, just by ex­er­cis­ing. I used to speed-walk, then I started run­ning, and I’ve been run­ning ever since.”

It’s been five years since she lost the weight - she’s run two marathons - and it was that story that made up her es­say as part of her ap­pli­ca­tion to carry the Olympic torch as it wound its way through New­found­land and Labrador ear­lier this month. Her co­work­ers at Pow­ell’s - the gro­cery store, along with the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Gro­cers and Coca-Cola, were the cor­po­rate spon­sors for Rus­sell’s run - en­cour­aged her to ap­ply.

“ They had called me here at the store, dur­ing just a reg­u­lar work day, and they said, ‘Ros­alie?’ and I’m like, ‘ yes,’ they said, ‘Con­grat­u­la­tions!’” When she asked what the con­grat­u­la­tions were for, she was told she’d been se­lected to carry the torch through Carbonear.

“Peo­ple out in the store were just watch­ing me bounc­ing up and down in the of­fice,” she said. “It was just like do­ing the happy dance when you win the lot­tery. Be­cause it’s a on­cein-a-life­time thing that you would never have that op­por­tu­nity. ... I was sup­posed to keep it un­der my hat for a lit­tle while but that’s im­pos­si­ble for me, for some­thing that im­por­tant!”

She said she couldn’t sleep at all the night be­fore the re­lay and got up at 5 a.m. “I was just bounc­ing around the house, mu­sic go­ing, try­ing not to be too loud, be­cause five o’clock in the morn­ing in an apart­ment build­ing, that’s not a good thing to be too noisy.”

She said when she met up with the Olympic con­voy and saw the bus she would be rid­ing with the other torch­bear­ers, she was filled with emo­tion.

“ When we got on the bus, they played when they lit the torch in Greece, the first lighting that came over for the start of this run. There was not a dry eye on the bus.”

That paled, how­ever, to the mo­ment when her torch was lit with the flame from the torch­bearer be­fore her.

“Ev­ery­body else dis­ap­peared. I mean, you can hear them, but when you see your flame touch, your torch touch­ing the next one, and see­ing it ig­nite... the two of us were looking up at it in to­tal awe, like ‘wow.’”

Many peo­ple wanted to hold the torch and get their pic­ture taken with it, she said. “ To share that with ev­ery­body is amaz­ing, to do that.”

On Nov. 28, Ros­alie is go­ing to give peo­ple in Har­bour Grace the chance to see the torch again. “I’m go­ing to have my uni­form on and bring my torch with me, and any­body that

“Ev­ery­body else dis­ap­peared. I mean, you can hear them, but when you see your flame touch, your torch touch­ing the next one, and see­ing it ig­nite... the two of us were looking up at it in to­tal awe, like ‘wow.’”

— Torch bearer Ros­alie Rus­sell

wants to get their pic­ture done and see the torch, they’re more than wel­come.”

Adam Gil­bert of Cupids car­ried the torch through St. John’s on Feb. 12. His cousin works for Coca-Cola, and when the com­pany asked its em­ploy­ees to rec­om­mend torch­bear­ers, the cousin thought of Gil­bert, who played var­sity volleyball for five years with the Memo­rial Uni­ver­sity Sea-Hawks. He also vol­un­teered for two years at Amer­ica’s Camp, a camp for chil­dren who lost par­ents in the at­tacks on the World Trade Cen­ter in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It was amaz­ing,” he said. “ To be hon­est, go­ing into it, I wasn’t quite sure what to ex­pect. Ob­vi­ously, you’ve got noth­ing to com­pare it to, no real frame­work.”

The day of the re­lay, he said he started to get ex­cited as he showed up and met other peo­ple in­volved with the run.

“ You kind of start feel­ing the en­ergy that’s in­volved with it, be­cause there’s so many peo­ple trav­el­ling with this Olympic con­tin­gent. It’s just huge.”

When it was his turn to carry the flame, Gil­bert said it felt in­cred­i­ble. “I car­ried it up Water­ford Bridge Road. There were fam­i­lies along the street ev­ery­where, there were young chil­dren out there they were just go­ing crazy, which was prob­a­bly the real high­light of it, when­ever you see the chil­dren’s faces, which are so, just so amazed with what’s go­ing on.”

Like Rus­sell, Gil­bert was in­un­dated with pic­ture re­quests. He said he posed for about 100 pho­to­graphs with peo­ple who wanted their pic­tures taken with the torch.

“I was think­ing that I could have made money charg­ing peo­ple,” he said, laugh­ing. And it wasn’t just dur­ing the re­lay. Af­ter pick­ing up his torch again later that night - run­ners had the op­tion of buy­ing their torches for $400 - he went for din­ner with his cousin.

“Ev­ery one of the peo­ple that were at the restau­rant, like the staff and the peo­ple that were eat­ing, ended up want­ing to get their pic­ture taken.”

Gil­bert’s used up his five years of ath­letic el­i­gi­bil­ity for the Sea-Hawks, but he con­tin­ues to play volleyball in a men’s league. He’s in his last se­mes­ter of stud­ies in the phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram.

He said the van that car­ried torch­bear­ers along the re­lay was of­ten quite quiet as the run­ners re­flected on what they were do­ing.

“It was def­i­nitely very quiet, and I can un­der­stand why. It’s one of those things that you would never re­ally nor­mally ex­pe­ri­ence. You just step off the bus, and the torch is in your hands, and then au­to­mat­i­cally you’re just sur­rounded by some of the Olympic com­mit­tee that are run­ning along­side you. You got just tons of peo­ple sur­round­ing the streets, like cheer­ing, go­ing wild. You’ve got two or three Olympic vans that have lights go­ing, run­ning right in front of you. It’s a pretty sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence. When you get back on the bus, it def­i­nitely takes a cou­ple min­utes for ev­ery­thing to kinda sink in and kinda so­lid­ify again.”

Dan MacEachern/The Com­pass

Ros­alie Rus­sell of Har­bour Grace says she plans to bring the Olympic torch to Pow­ell’s Nov. 28.

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