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When the Olympic Torch Relay comes to Juneau on Thursday morning, arriving in Alaska for the first time in its history, the relay will hold special meaning for several of Juneau's Olympic torchbearers.
For Connie Trollan, the Olympic torch is a symbol of peace, since in ancient Greece wars were halted so the Olympics could be held. "It's a great honor for what it means as far as peace," Trollan said. "It's a symbol for all of us."
Kimberly Skinner also sees the torch as a symbol of peace, "especially in light of world events," she said. "It's not just about freedom. It's knitting the world family together."
For Ethel Lund, the Olympic torch is "a symbol of everything that's healthy and good, not only in competition but in doing the best you can in whatever field you pursue."
Kari Spencer feels the Olympics "to me mean excellence, striving to be your very best."
The Olympic flame has different meanings to a lot of the Olympic torchbearers, but all agree on on one thing carrying the flame when it comes to Juneau will be a great honor.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Ray Vidic said.
The 2002 OIympic Torch Relay is a 65-day, 13,500-mile journey through 46 of the 50 states. The relay started in Atlanta, Ga., on Dec. 4, and will reach Salt Lake City, Utah, on Feb. 8 for the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics. When the torch arrives in Juneau on Thursday, it will be the 50th day of the flame's journey across the country.
The torch will be flown to Alaska in one of only four trips by plane taken by the flame during the relay. As soon as the torch completes its leg in Seattle on Wednesday night, the flame will be transferred into a safety lantern and it will be placed in a special bulkhead on a Delta Connection charter jet and flown to Juneau, arriving about 2 to 2:30 Thursday morning.
Juneau's celebration ends about noon at Centennial Hall. After a few final photos are taken with the torch and Olympic silver medalist Hilary Lindh of Juneau at Mendenhall Glacier, the flame will go back in its safety lantern and the jet will take off for Spokane, Wash., which hosts the Olympic Torch Relay on Thursday night.
Alaskans chosen to carry the torch
The following is a list of the Alaska Olympic torchbearers whose names had been released by Thursday afternoon. There will be about 45 to 50 torchbearers who will carry the Olympic torch through Juneau on Thursday, Jan. 24, but some names have not been released yet.
Mandy Anderson, Unalaska (paired with Wendie Marriott)
Jody Burcham, Kodiak
Ryan Chapman, Fairbanks
Cathy Choi, Anchorage
Dan Coleman, Eagle River
Carolyn Lee Crusey, Wasilla (born in Juneau)
Erik Drygas, Fairbanks
Jack Eddy, Petersburg
Robert Forgit, Anchorage
Joanna Goldman, Juneau (paired with Constance Trollan)
Marietta Hall, Anchorage
Linda Hayes, North Pole
Deana Johnson, Anchorage
Niall Bo Johnson, Juneau
Ethel Lund, Juneau
Joy Maples, Anchorage
Wendie Marriott, Unalaska (former Juneau resident) (paired with Mandy Anderson)
Jody McCarrey, Anchorage
Joy McDonald, Fairbanks
Michael Miller, Beaverton, Ore. (former Juneau resident)
Nick Parker, Anchorage
Nicholas Pulice, Fairbanks
Kirsten Rasmussen, Anchorage
Sabrina Richmond, Juneau
Justin Roberts, Juneau
Brian Ryan, Anchorage
Steve Schaber, Bethel
Kimberly Skinner, Juneau
Linda Sopp, Anchorage
Kari Spencer, Juneau
Constance Trollan, Juneau (paired with Joanna Goldman)
Col. Norman Vaughan, Anchorage
Ray Vidic, Juneau
Jean Vreeman, Anchorage
Michelle Webb, Anchorage
Chuck Whelan, Anchorage
Shirley Winther, Fairbanks
Roughly 11,500 people will carry the torch as it winds its way across America, and 45 to 50 of those will be Alaskans in Juneau. More than 210,000 nominations were received by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and the torch relay's two main sponsors Chevrolet and Coca-Cola. In addition to the torchbearers, there will be another 4,000 or so support runners who will escort the torchbearers along the route. There will be about 16 to 20 support runners in Juneau.
The torchbearers were nominated and judged using a four-part criteria that examined the potential torchbearers' ability to inspire others to greater achievement, inspire their communities, embody the inspirational spirit of the Olympic movement, and motivate others by encountering and overcoming adversity.
Each torchbearer will carry the torch for 0.2 miles of the three-segment, 10-mile course in Juneau that includes portions of Mendenhall Valley, Lemon Creek and downtown Juneau. The torch relay begins at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the Juneau Airport, and it will arrive at Centennial Hall about 11 a.m. for a citywide celebration. Doors open at Centennial Hall about 10 a.m. Maps of the course are available in a special section that ran in Wednesday's edition of the Juneau Empire.
"Just as Alaskans can be proud of the strong contingent of athletes we are sending to the Winter Games, we can also be proud of the Alaskans selected to carry the torch in Juneau," Gov. Tony Knowles said. "Each has a story, many are heroes and none will forget this special day of their lives."
Among the torchbearers is former Juneau resident Mike Miller, a swim coach during his nearly 20 years in Juneau. When he was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer, Miller became a nationally recognized advocate for cancer education and early detection. He now lives in Beaverton, Ore., so he can be closer to his doctors. Miller was told he had 17 to 35 months to live back in 1996 more than 60 months ago.
Justin Roberts of Juneau just found out Tuesday afternoon he will be carrying the torch. Roberts is a Special Olympics athlete who suffers sometimes from more than 100 uncontrolled epileptic seizures a day, said his father, Gary Timothy. In 1998, Roberts, 20, had surgery to separate the hemispheres of his brain, which has reduced the severity of the seizures. Roberts competed as an advanced downhill skier in the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Anchorage. He suffered a seizure in the starting gate before a race, but still posted the fastest time in the run. Earlier this month, Roberts moved into his own apartment with his dog, Ivy, while he works at Costco and attends the Juneau-Douglas High School transition program.
"I'm pretty excited," said Roberts, who was a torchbearer for the Special Olympics in Anchorage. "It means a lot to me, actually, to get to run in it. It'll be way different, because it will be here in Juneau instead of in Anchorage where I'll be carrying the torch. Yeah, it's worth it. A lot of people will be counting on me for giving my best effort."
Roberts is one of three Special Olympians from Juneau who will carry the torch. He will be joined by Niall Bo Johnson and Sabrina Richmond. Johnson, 25, also competed at the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Anchorage as a snowboarder and he lit the Special Olympics flame for the event.
"I have butterflies," said Johnson, who described the torch as "like an elephant tusk, but silver."
Richmond, who grew up in Petersburg, has competed in state Special Olympics competitions and will use a motorized wheelchair to complete her leg of the relay.
"It's a big honor," Richmond, 22, said two weeks ago. "It's the first time it's been in Juneau. I got my uniform yesterday and I've been so excited. I'll get to see my teacher from Petersburg, and I haven't seen him in years."
Jack Eddy of Petersburg is a high school science teacher and the cross-country running coach at Petersburg High School. Eddy continues to train with his runners, even though he suffers from Parkinson's disease. Eddy said being a torchbearer is an awesome responsibility.
"I keep thinking at that moment in time, when I get to run with the Olympic flame, I will be the only one in the world with that responsibility at that time," Eddy said. "I sure hope I don't fall down and put the torch out."
Juneau's Kimberly Skinner recently won a national contest sponsored by a vitamin company for transforming her body and lifestyle into a more healthy organism. Juneau's Kari Spencer was nominated by First Lady Susan Knowles because Spencer quit smoking while she was pregnant and is now an advocate for smokeless pregnancies.
Juneau's Constance Trollan was nominated by co-worker Joanna Goldman because of her years of work in the health-care industry. Goldman's nomination letter not only earned Trollan a chance to carry the flame but also earned a spot in the relay for Goldman. Former Juneau resident Wendie Marriott, who now lives in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, nominated cancer survivor Mandy Anderson of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and they both won spots in the relay.
Some of the other torchbearers include 96-year-old former Iditarod musher Col. Norman Vaughan of Anchorage, who competed in the 1932 Olympics as a sled dog racer; former University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey player Erik Drygas, who broke his neck and was paralyzed during a University of Alaska Fairbanks practice but now coaches the West Valley High School hockey team from his wheelchair; and Nick Parker of Anchorage, who had leg and lung damage from childhood polio but recovered enough to guide 30 trips up Mount McKinley.
Besides Roberts, another torchbearer who just found out this week he'd be carrying the flame in Juneau is Steve Schaber of Bethel. Schaber, who found out on Thursday, was a student at the University of Georgia during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and was a volunteer during those Olympic Games. He works as a pharmacist for Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. in Bethel.
For the most part, the Olympic Torch Relay's trip to Juneau will be in the traditional format, with runners completing their legs of the course and using their torches to light the torches of the next runners. Along the way, there have also been several specialty legs, in which the torch is transported by bicycle, sled dog team, ski jumpers, even a hot air balloon.
Juneau will also be given the chance to host a specialty leg, as torchbearer Ethel Lund of Juneau will be paddled across Juneau Harbor in a Tlingit canoe by nine members of the Tlingit Warriors crew and two members of the Johnson Youth Center crew. The canoe crew members will all wear full regalia or Tlingit vests, and a U.S. Coast Guard boat will serve as escort.
Lund is a member of the Tlingit dance group Yun Shu Ka, which will play an exit or "send-them-off" song as the canoe leaves the Goldbelt Dock, said Carolyn Noe, Yun Shu Ka's dance leader. As soon as the canoe is away from the dock, the 55-member dance group will quickly board a bus that will take the dance group to the Intermediate Vessel Float dock near Taku Smokeries so it can play an entrance song as the canoe pulls up.
"Every one of the dance members is really hyped up about the relay," said Noe, who added that her group has been invited to perform at the Fourth of July Celebration in Washington, D.C. "Not only are we representing Southeast Alaska, but we're representing our people as Alaska Natives. I get goosebumps about the honor of doing this, and having Ethel, who is a member of our dance group, as the torchbearer really makes this special."
The Salt Lake Organizing Committee originally asked about using a sled dog team in Juneau, but the local relay task force persuaded the committee to use a canoe instead. The task force, co-chaired by Mayor Sally Smith and University of Alaska Southeast Director of Student Activities Tish Griffin, thought a canoe held more historical and cultural relevance to Southeast than a dog sled.
"The canoe will really be more cultural and cross-cultural," Smith said. "One of the goals of the Olympic Torch Relay is to unify, regardless of culture. Ethel Lund will be the torchbearer in the canoe, and she's excited to do it. When she heard about the canoe, she jumped at the chance."
Lund, 70, is a Tlingit from the raven/frog clan. She is one of the founders of the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, the regional health-care program for Alaska Natives, and she recently retired as president of the organization. She was traveling all week and unavailable for comment about the canoe leg, but earlier she did talk about the relay in general.
"It's exciting," Lund said. "I'm very happy to be a part of it. This is an honor for us here in Juneau to witness and be a part of it."