Right up until the eve before, I was ambivalent about driving a short 2 miles north to watch the Olympic Torch relay pass on January 6. I can't quite put my finger on the source of my misgivings. This usually means that a number of factors are at work, making me cynical, dimming interest. Commercialization of the 44 state Torch Relay and a barrage of TV and newspaper coverage both seemed to exploit Games that have had more than their share of difficulties. All the reasons ran together in my mind but, in the end, I went because I sensed in the torch something bigger than life, something that unified people and dreams and transcended real and imagined Olympic problems.
I stayed away from the hoopla, media focus and speeches in downtown Flint and, instead, watched the torch and massive entourage near home. It was an excellent choice. I'd no idea who and how many would show up to watch and felt a mix of pleasure, awe and giddiness as I joined hundreds of others lining both curbs as far as I could see. Safe to say only the Crim races attract similar crowds in Flint. What I saw in a moment but, first, unsolicited impressions from two friends who've agreed to let me share their torch feelings.
Ted Hilleary got to the carry the torch in Detroit. Nobody doesn't like Ted so it's no surprise he was nominated and selected to wear Olympic white and carry the torch high. "It was very, very exciting. The other torch bearers and our support runners were nice people, all with interesting personal inspirational stories and equally excited as me. When I stepped off the shuttle bus for my segment, 17 members of my family were there for the most gratifying support experience of my life. It ain't every day you have a personal cheering section with such enthusiasm and love.
"They all took a lot of pictures but had to tell me to slow down. I was so pumped and excited I was almost into a sprint, running away from my family. Many pictures with the torch and family were taken afterward. A little girl in the parking lot, a stranger, asked to have her picture taken with me. I was deeply touched that this event, and I, were important to her. This is a memory to cherish the rest of my life."
Detroit Free Press Marathon director, Pat Ball, lives in Ann Arbor. The relay passed right by her home January 7 and she sent this stirring message to friends minutes later. "While sitting in my pajamas in my office working, I noticed people gathering along the sidewalk on Stadium (Blvd). I remembered what day it was so I quickly got dressed and grabbed my camera. I found a spot not directly next to any one person (as I knew I wouldn't be able to contain my emotions and others might not understand my sobbing) and away I clicked.
"I was the only person jumping up and down, screaming and yelling and cheering her on. Bergen (Pat's son) would've been so embarrassed. The runner got so excited that she started jumping up and down and waving. What an awesome sight to see the passing of the torch. Are we not so blessed to have these incredible gifts to share?"
A mile west of Pat, Ann Arbor Pioneer High had let all students out to watch the torch round the corner at Michigan Stadium. My son, Jeff, got to see the runner for just a moment but said it was, "Pretty cool."
Along Bristol Rd in Flint, energized spectators waved hundreds of tiny American flags as the torch approached. To my right, I watched a runner trot up to the exchange point. Any misgivings I might've had vanished as a new torch was placed into a holder aboard a motorized wheelchair. As the chair started up, a roar spread down the street as the female relayer, minus one arm and both legs, rolled slowly to...boy, I got caught up wishing she could go many times the designated distance of .2 miles. I felt warm, happy, positive, really positive. Watched the torch move along another minute then headed off for a quiet run.
Despite regular Olympic controversies and scandal, we remain attracted to the Games with their warts, foibles, compelling competition and all that's splendid. The Torch relay came to us, allowing us to touch it...and be touched.
Best, Scott Hubbard