ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge
ADRIAN - Their backgrounds and physical abilities are varied; their ages range from 12 to 103 years.
But those who were chosen by their loved ones and colleagues to bear the Olympic torch to Salt Lake City, Utah, this year share one inescapable quality: their ability to inspire.
Locally, that includes a high school student from Adrian, Mich., who is overcoming the effects of a degenerative brain condition; a mother of four from West Toledo who volunteers much of her time as a cheerleading coach, and a businessman from Ottawa Hills who was held hostage for more than three years by Venezuelan guerillas.
“You can't help but be lifted up by their stories,” said Mark Walker, spokesman for the Olympic Torch Run.
Three years ago this month, Chris Slack was a Lenawee County football and basketball star. But life took an unexpected turn for the Madison High School student when he ran off the football field in 1999 complaining of double vision.
Chris contracted a virus that attacked the covering of the nerves in his brain. The nerves were exposed to infection and it caused brain damage, said his father, Dave. The teenager deteriorated rapidly.
“He could barely walk at this point,” Mr. Slack said. “His speech was slurred, and he was sleeping all the time.”
Chris lost feeling in the right side of his body and was hospitalized for 52 days while doctors worked feverishly to figure out what was wrong.
“We don't know what caused this,” Mr. Slack said. “All we know is the tremendous support that the community has given us.”
Although he walks with difficulty, the 18-year-old senior has no doubt he will be able to carry the Olympic torch.
“He's never complained, he just never quit,” Mr. Slack said. “My inspiration, as I'm sure is my wife's, is his attitude.”
The flame for the Winter Olympics 2002 begins its journey from Athens, Greece, Nov. 19 following an unrelated three-day relay in that country. It will travel - continuously lit - in a Delta Airlines 777 to Atlanta, Ga., where it begins its 65-day journey through 46 states Dec. 4. It winds through the Detroit area Jan. 6 or 7 and is scheduled to arrive for the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake Feb. 8, Mr. Walker said.
In all, 11,500 runners clad in Olympics-issue white and blue running suits will pass the flame using 36-inch aluminum and glass torches that look like mountain icicles.
Of those runners, 7,500 were chosen through the same process that selected Chris - nominated by friends, family members, and coworkers, and selected by one of 96 judging panels across the country. The remaining 4,000 runners are chosen through sponsorships and other connections to the Olympics, Mr. Walker said.
Lisa Zubke nominated Chris because of his determination. She remembered watching him find the strength to stand for the national anthem at a high school basketball game.
“I just thought he had that Olympic spirit,” said Ms. Zubke, an elementary school teacher. “Now he has a chance for a sports moment again.”
Chris received a letter in early July from the representatives of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games welcoming him as a torchbearer. His reaction was simple: “Wow,” he said.
The final details of the run, such as which two-tenths-of-a-mile leg each runner will be assigned, is to be worked out. And runners like Carrie Brumbaugh of Toledo are anxiously waiting to find out when they will have their turn to represent their country.
A former high school cheerleader who coaches cheerleading at Toledo Christian High School, the 38-year-old mother of four is more comfortable on the sidelines - giving a boost to others in the limelight.
“I'm not used to the public spotlight, myself,” she said. “I'm really more of a quiet kind of girl.”
Mrs. Brumbaugh not only was surprised to learn she had been selected for the run - the announcement came via certified letter earlier this summer - she was shocked to find out she had been nominated by her 15-year-old daughter, Deidre.
The teenager heard about the run on the radio.
“I thought of her right away,” the Perrysburg High School sophomore said. “She gives up all her time for us and the [cheerleading] squads. And she's cool, too. A lot of the girls [other cheerleaders] call her their second mom.”
Other local runners include William Niehous, a former Owens-Illinois, Inc., executive who was kidnapped by Venezuelan guerillas in 1976 and spent more than three years in their captivity. He was rescued in 1979 from his jungle shack prison by Venezuelan police who were on a hunt for cattle rustlers.