Saturday, December 22, 2012

Torch Relay Part 2

WINSTON SALEM, NC: Carrying the torch in Gary was one of the most memorable events in my life. But several weeks later I was able to do it all over again. For some reason I had a hard time receiving instructions for my second run in Winston Salem. In the age before the internet and cell phones, it wasn’t until we were on the way before I received the official confirmation…on a pay phone near Lake Oconee.

After driving to Jefferson, the next morning Ceil’s father and I drove up to Winston Salem. Ceil was eight months pregnant, and didn’t need to spend another long day in the car and out in the summer sun. We met the torch relay bus at Wake Forest, and I changed into my new uniform in the library bathroom. As it turned out, the bus guide was the same guy I’d met in Gary.

Unlike the nighttime run in Gary, the Winston Salem relay would take place at noon. It was a bright, sunny, cloudless, beautiful day. Since it was a weekday, there weren’t as many spectators on the streets. Mr. Miller had made his way to my drop-off point, but he was pretty much alone.

This torch transfer seemed to happen quicker in Winston Salem. The drop-off bus was right ahead of the torch, so I barely had time to say hello to Mr. Miller. The cast of characters was the same: same torch expert, same hefty escort runners. I took off running with the torch, ran around a curve to the right, and was greeted with a semi-steep hill.

The crowd was growing thicker, and I had no problem running up the hill. At the top of the hill the relay made a left toward downtown Winston Salem. The street was jammed with workers outside on their lunch breaks, all loudly cheering in the noonday sun. Sweet.

The guide on the torchbearer pickup bus had a familiar last name: Payne. Porter was the son of Olympic organizer Billy Payne. We talked the rest of the way.

Carrying the torch two times during the run-up to the 96 Olympics was something I will always remember and cherish. I wore my white torch relay outfit one more time: in the July 4th Peachtree Road Race. We were able to see the torch a few other times on its route. In July I took off work and drove Ceil and Will down to Callaway Gardens. I knew the torch relay was nearby, and made a short detour to see it. As we drove down the country two-lane, the torch passed us going the other way.

On the Friday afternoon of the Opening Ceremony the relay made its way south from the Roswell Square down Atlanta Street, crossing Azalea Drive and the Chattahoochee. We walked over from the Norman’s house, and were able to see all the vehicles slowly make their way down the hill. The road was so packed with spectators that the relay was barely able to pass. On the way back to the Norman’s, Steve led pregnant Ceil and I through the woods and over a fence back to the house.

That evening the torch relay culminated in Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium. Like me, swimmer Janet Evans carried the torch for a second time, then lit Muhammad Ali’s torch. At home, I was proud to have been part of history.

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