My Turn: Honoring those who light the fire within

Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2002

On Thursday, Alaska's capital city will be visited by the Olympic Flame. This enduring symbol of the Olympics represents the true heart of what the Olympics are all about - "Light the Fire Within." The Olympics bring people from all over the world together to compete on a worldly stage in a "Spirit of Brotherhood." For a moment in time, beginning Feb. 8, humanity will pause and the world will look toward Salt Lake City as the Olympic Cauldron is lit, signaling the beginning of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Just as on Jan. 24, for a brief moment, the world will look toward Juneau, as it plays host to the Olympic Flame.

There are many examples of "the fire within" here in this community. Many citizens who have stories to tell of their own "Olympic" challenges. While not all of them get the honor of carrying the Olympic Flame, they are as much or more deserving of this honor. These citizens have fought and continue to fight, continue to strive to be the best that they can be in life in spite of the challenges they face daily. "Light the Fire Within" is more than a statement, for some it's a way of life. Here are three individuals who are living lives that give meaning to the "Light The Fire Within" and whose lives have been touched by the "Spirit of Juneau."

Tish Griffin: Diagnosed in June of 1997 as she says, "With the big three, with bladder, kidney and cervical cancer." Tish's ongoing battle with cancer has not slowed her down, instead if anything having cancer has served as an impetus to cause her to press on. In her words, "Anytime you deal with your mortality, you look at the world differently. I have a greater appreciation of the here and now, I listen better, I'm more upbeat and spontaneous. I want to give back to the community, my family is more important and I like to celebrate life's moments in a much different way. It's important to bring family and friends together and celebrate the victories, because that is what sustains you when life is a little darker. I like to give back to my prayer warriors who sustain me in the tough times."

Reilly Richey (head coach of the JDHS Crimson Bears football team): During his tenure at JDHS, Coach Richey has faced many foes, however he met his toughest foe in 1988, when he was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Riley continues to face this foe daily, in his words," I look at trials such as relapses different because of my faith, trials are a greater chance to get to know God more. God's presence is closer during a trial, I seek the word and trust in God, knowing he will come through. I don't openly discuss my faith with the coaches or the team, but everyone knows where I get my strength from."

Nancy Peel: Nancy faced an Olympic-size challenge when she was diagnosed with acute leukemia in April 1999. Her doctors told her she was not going to live. Though in remission, Nancy remains optimistic about her future. Nancy says, "When times were darkest I imagined the future and did not lose my capacity to look ahead. I kept my hope alive, fueling my dreams with my imagination, I kept pushing hard. I thought that if I die, I die, I've seen the best that Juneau has to offer and I am alive because of it! I am a living miracle!

"Through this illness and the struggles of close family because of it (the illness), I have experienced kindness. Some of the best that humanity has to offer. Strangers came into our lives and have become family. Homes and hearts were opened to us without thought or consideration. Our own community of Juneau rallied like I didn't know possible. We can never thank all the people, known and unknown who helped us through their prayers, financially or with just a kind thought. We have been shown a golden gem that exists in the hearts of most of us and are changed because of it. Had the outcome of my illness been different, I would still count myself fortunate to have seen the light in so many hearts."

Tish, Reilly and Nancy have seen and experienced, as Nancy so eloquently put it, "the light in so many hearts." Each has borne their own Olympic torch. Just as the flame is passed from person to person, the members of our community through their love and care have helped keep their flames burning strong.

I am privileged to have the opportunity to carry the Olympic Flame and I do so to honor each and every member of our community who's true "fire within" is reflected all that they are and all that they do.

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