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Matt, I heard you carried the Olympic torch for the 2002 Winter Games Torch Relay. That is so exciting. Can you tell me what it was like? Shannon
I suppose it might be interesting to some to hear a little on the behind the scenes of the torch relay, things I haven't seen written about in most articles about this emotional and breath-taking experience. First, I must reiterate, as many do, that being the momentary, sole carrier of this flame that has been passed on from Greece by way of torch bearer after torch bearer through many parts of the world for years and years inspires an incredible array of thoughts and emotions from awe to exhilaration to reflection to patriotism and on and on. For me, I cannot help but think of the many unseen hours and years of toil and pain endured by thousands of athletes unwaveringly dedicated to excellence in their sport, knowing only a few will experience the podium finish. The torch relay itself is an extremely well-managed event. A traveling logistics staff of 150 people in 27 vehicles criss-crossed the country from Atlanta to Salt Lake in about 60 days. They worked 16 hour days, seven days a week, with only Christmas eve and Christmas day off. Their days were scheduled in 0.2 mile increments by the minute. Torch bearers are nominated through a public nomination process and selected by a committee. They are people from all walks of life and include youth and senior citizens as well as everyone in between. In addition to the torch bearer, support runners are also included. I think there is 1 support runner for every 4 or 5 torch bearers, so they get to cover a greater distance and usually get to carry the flame briefly during a couple of the segments. I was nominated by one of the volunteer members of the United States press relations team from the Sydney Paralympic Games. I was very surprised to receive the letter as I didn't know she had submitted the nomination. I'll never forget the day I had to return the nomination acceptance because it had to be witnessed by a notary public and returned via Federal Express. It was 9/11 and several businesses had closed, including the first place we went looking for a copier and Federal Express drop-off. They wouldn't tell us where and when we were going to run until about two weeks before the actual run date, citing security. So about January 14th, I received another Federal Express package with the uniform, 70% white per traditional regulations from Greece: wind pants, long sleeve t-shirt, wind jacket, fleece gloves and fleece hat (mine to keep). Also included was an instructional video and my schedule. I was to report to the Fine Arts Center here in Colorado Springs at 4:02 PM on 1/31. At the Fine Art Center, my collection point, 9 other torch bearers and a couple of support runners and I met each other and some of the logistics staff. We had an education session and were loaded onto a van. They had videos and music playing in the van to hype us all up. Energy levels were high. The van drove to its assigned insertion point, where we waited for the caravan to approach. As the caravan was about half hour behind schedule, we had about a 45 minute wait that was full of anticipation. We were parked next to the Colorado College campus where excited college students would occasionally rock the van with their excited banging on the windows, only to be fended off by police. It was a party atmosphere. About 15 minutes ahead of the caravan a promotional truck drove by playing music and announcing the approaching procession. Then, we saw it, the first vehicles of the caravan had rounded a corner and behind them was the flame, in view. Cheering its arrival, our van joined the caravan in about the third or fourth position just behind the van that had been carrying the previous 10 runners, still with one on board, and between some security vehicles. motorcycle-mounted police were zipping back and forth and the crowds were getting louder as we drove into the heart of Colorado Springs. The van in front of us dropped off its last runner and peeled off. We moved up in position and our first runner, #215 of the day, got ready, stepping off the van at about 6:30. I was runner number 223, the second to the last in our group, which was the second to the last group of the day. Minutes later it was my turn. I met the 20 degree night air at a quieter spot in the route where all the businesses were closed. But, a block or so up the hill in the direction I was to run I could hear people cheering the sight of the convoy. One staff runner took my cane and another placed a torch in my hands, I was actually holding it for the first time!. In the next 30 seconds, A security runner described the approach of the flame as the person who had handed me the torch inserted a tool into its side and opened the gas valve. I held the 33-inch, 3.5 pound masterpiece out as instructed, vertically in both hands as the flame drew near. I could hear the flame as the previous runner tilted her torch toward mine. when the two glass funnels were about ten inches apart the flame leaped to cheers from hers to mine. As I turned around, her flame was extinguished, and I was off, holding the torch high in my right hand. I began running up the hill, guided by my support runner, a high-school senior on my left, and security officers on my right. I heard people yelling my name, I yelled something back, who knows what, and excitement quickened my pace. Next thing I knew I was almost in an out all-out sprint on my own. One of the staff runners fell in on my left and took over guiding as I neared the corner with a light pole marked 224 where the next runner was waiting. People were everywhere, screaming and honking. The officer gave me the count-down, 30 feet, 15 feet, 10 feet, as he slowed me down and guided me into position for the exchange. I tilted my torch and heard the flame leap. The crowd cheered louder, and I turned, panting and exuberant, in the direction of my wife's unmistakable, enthusiastic voice as they shut off my torch's fuel supply. The 20 vehicle tail of the convoy began passing me. One bus stopped, asking if I was boarding or staying with family. I waved them on and the security personnel guided me to my wife and returned my cane. We thanked each other and they were on their way, protecting the flame and its carriers as it continued the remaining 2 miles more throughout the Olympic Training Center and down the street to Memorial park where a celebration of speeches, music, and fireworks would end the day.
Since I had purchased my torch, the staff had left it in my hands. People were coming from every direction, wanting to take pictures, shaking my hand, thanking and congratulating me. It was an unforgettable privilege. Some of you may want to know what the torch looks like. I will describe it as best I can. Most of you are probably familiar with the round waffle ice cream cones that are common, at least here in the States. Imagine a 33-inch long skinny cone with the point sliced off at a slight angle. The bottom end is left open. The top end is only about 4 inches across, so as I said, it is skinny. The majority of the torch is a smooth metal. The top 6 inches or so are made from a thick ribbed glass. The bottom half of the metal portion has been described to me as a rustic finish. That symbolizes the past. The top portion is very shiny. That symbolizes the present and future. Carriers are to hold the torch at the junction of the past and future. The glass and larger diameter of the top make it top-heavy, which was definitely noticeable during the run. Under the glass piece there is a raised seal of the Salt Lake Games. I don't think this description does the torch justice. But, hopefully it gives those of you who will never see a picture of it some idea of what it is like.
Dear Mr. King, my name is Karly Klein, I am 9 and in fourth grade, Lake in the Hills, Illinois. I have to do a sports report and I have three questions for you, here they are:
Question: Is it hard being blind?
Matt: Karly, this is a good question, and I hope I can answer it in a way that will make sense to you. It is not easy for people who are blind to explain what it is like to be blind to someone who is not blind. However, I really don't mind trying. In fact, I think it is very important that I do try and help people understand. If more people understood what I am about to explain to you, life for blind people would be much easier. Has it ever happened to you that you were getting ready to leave your house to go to school, and your mom was asking you to hurry up because you are late, and, you couldn't find your shoes or your homework? You are running about looking for things, and maybe your getting frustrated or upset. Your mom is trying to help and maybe she is frustrated, too? That kind of frustration is annoying, isn't it? But, you know it happens to everyone, doesn't it? It doesn't matter if you can see or you cannot see if you are in a wheelchair or you can walk. Frustrating things happen to everyone. Sometimes frustrating things happen to me because I am blind; just sometimes though. If I had to guess, something frustrating happens to me because I am blind about once every week or two. Now and then I might go a month or more where blindness causes no frustration at all. And, occassionally, I might just have a bad day. But, the important thing to understand is that most of the time when things like that happen to me, they don't happen because I am blind. They just happen because I am a normal person just like you. I have made adjustments in the way I live so that being blind does not make everyday life hard for me. I learned braille so that I can read and write with it instead of with a pencil and paper. I have learned how to get around with a long white cane so that I can go places by myself. I have learned how to organize and label my belongings so that I know what they are and where they are. Fortunately for me, I am an organized person. I know some blind people that are not so organized and some of them are frustrated a lot more than me. But, if they could see, I still think they would be more frustrated than me. In everyday life, I do not think about being blind very much at all. It is sort of like how most people don't think very often about the color of their skin or hair. They just are who they are and that is that. But, once in a while, it is difficult. Once in a while, a new obstacle pops up because I am blind. When that happens, though, I don't get mad about being blind. I just treat the obstacles like any other challenge in my life. It is like when you have a problem reaching something because you are not as tall as adults. You probably don't get made about being short, right? You start looking around for a way to reach what you want. Maybe there is a chair near by. Or, maybe there is a taller person near by. So, being blind can sometimes be challenging. But, I don't think my life is more challenging than everyone else's. Life is challenging for everyone. And all people have special God-given gifts, talents, and dreams that, if they find them and grow them, they will overcome the challenges in their life. They will even learn to enjoy the obstacles. Now, that I have said all this, I will tell you about one frustrating thing that happens because I am blind. And, I hope you can understand why it is frustrating. Often, when I am walking down the street, a very kind person will see me and want to say something nice. They tell me that they are amazed because I get around so well. They think they are complimenting me. Does that mean they think most blind people couldn't get around very well? Does that mean I am special because I can walk from one place to another by myself? I don't have time to explain all of this to them, so I just say thank you and go on my way. But, I wish that I could teach them that being blind is not so bad as they think, and that most blind people do learn how to get around just fine. And, most of all, if they went blind, eventually they would learn that they could too. When people with disabilities say that the most disabling part of a disability is what people who do not have their disability think, this is what they are talking about. That kind of thinking, even though it comes from nice people, is the kind of thinking that keeps people with disabilities from being hired for some jobs or given certain kinds of responsibilities.
Question: How fast do you go when you race? - Karly Klein, fourth grade, Lake in the Hills, Illinois
Matt: Most of my races finish between 38 and 42 miles per hour. Sometimes, we will have a race that is faster and we might get up to 45 miles per hour or even faster. I am a sprinter, that means our races are short. Also, we are racing on a velodrome so we don't have long hills to go down like people who race on the road through mountains. So, getting the bike to go that fast in such a short time is what makes sprinting hard.
Question: Are you nervous about competing in the Paralympics? Karly Klein, fourth grade, Lake in the Hills, Illinois
Matt: Right now, I am not very nervous; at least I try not to be. I work at staying focused on being the best I can be. I cannot control how good the competitors from other countries are getting by being nervous. I just have to think about what's best for my partners and me. Sometimes I may get worried that I am not doing the right things to get ready. That is when I need to talk to my coach and get my mind put back on track. Training for sports can be hard because there is no way to know if you are doing everything just right. There is no single right way to train that works for every athlete. If you train too much, you will get weaker and slower. If you train less than the perfect amount for your body, you won't get as strong and fast as you really could be. And, everybody is different. And, as you get older. your body changes. So, it takes faith in yourself, your coach, and your teammates to stay mentally focused and keep your nerves from getting in the way.
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