Five years ago in Atlanta, the mystery torchbearer was Muhammed Ali who lit the flame to signal the start of the Olympic games. Coincidentally, Ali was in Atlanta December 4th, to pass the first flame in its magical journey to the winter games that will end up in Salt Lake City this February but 8 days and 1,600 miles into the run, the Olympic flame reached Dallas Texas on December 12th, and I was there.
The first person I met was a tall, thin man from Allen, Texas. He told me he was from Allen, Texas. All I could think of was that he looked like a runner. When I asked if he was nervous, Scott said, "I'm very excited. Yes, I'm nervous. Of course, I'm nervous." Me too. When I put on my new Olympic wind-suit, I couldn't help but wonder why I had been chosen to run with "the flame."
I was standing there in our scheduled meeting place at Marsh Lane Baptist church in Dallas, when a tall man in a blue Olympic wind-suit slapped a sticker on me with my official number on it. Diego, I found out later he's Puerto Rican, told me, "You're number is 161. There you go put it on your right side."
Next thing I knew I was signing a waiver for a cute little girl in the same blue wind suit. I got the feeling there wasn't enough time to read the waiver, just sign the dotted line. So, I asked if it had anything to do with catching my hair on fire from the torch flame. She assured me that that had never happened before. I was relieved until she amused herself by suggesting I could probably end up on national television if I became the first to light up like that.
Instead of dwelling on that, I decided to get to know my fellow torch bearers. Cody of Allen, Texas, told me he was running for the men and women overseas. "I want to give them pride because they give me pride", he told me.
John, from his wheelchair, said, "I'm carrying the torch for everybody." Then, a slender woman standing beside him said with big tears in her eyes, "I am so honored to do this (run) with that man. That's my dad." Vicki explained that her father had suffered the effects of polio for 50 years, tied to a wheelchair since she was 5 years-old. She said he was her hero for accomplishing so much in his life from that chair. Soon, I discovered there are 11 thousand, 500 runners who were selected nationwide to carry the torch because someone like Vicki had nominated someone like her dad, John. Many wrote essays about that person on line through the winter Olympic website.
Michael, from Plano, Texas, told me he was in awe when he discovered that his son had nominated him to run with the torch. He said it was an honor that came out of nowhere, one that he will remember forever.
So, how did I get to Dallas and on this church parking lot? Apparently, my nomination came from KCBD. You may recall in may of 1996, my buddy and co-anchor, Abner had carried the torch on the way to the summer Olympics in Atlanta. This time, our General Manager, Bill deTournillon, had chosen me, sending my 10 year-old son, Jacob, along to enjoy this trip of a lifetime together.
Soon after all 14 of us had gathered in our white wind-suits, an official Olympic mini-van drove up. The driver rolled up his window and said, "I'm Peter. Where are you all from?" Lubbock was not the farthest ride for this group. Two folks were assigned to run in Dallas although they lived in Denver and Salt Lake City. The rest of our group was from the Dallas area.
Then, Peter hinted at what was ahead for us. "The emotions are pretty intense, and you'll know that shortly." You can't imagine the gasps of excitement and the applause that broke out when Heidi then displayed the first torch. My favorite theme is light the fire within and it's etched on the bottom of the torch.
By now, I know why I'm here. Just to enjoy one of those thrills that come once in a lifetime. To see from the bus the people lining the streets to celebrate the Olympics, and to cheer for all those runners in white. A symbol of peace crossing 200 miles every day even on slick streets, and cold nights Connecting 46 states to show their pride for America.
For more information on the 2002 Olympic Games (click here).