The Olympic torch didn’t pass through Davis this year, but the spirit of the games seems to abide on campus, at least according to the organizers of the Olympic torch relay campaign, who selected four members of the UC Davis community as torchbearers.
The four torchbearers, two students, one staff member and one faculty member – all chosen for their community service efforts – carried the torch as it traveled through Texas and Northern California. Additionally a Davis resident, Chris Chiarello, who received a pancreas-kidney transplant at the UC Davis Medical Center, also carried the flame. Since his 1992 transplant Chiarello has been a medal-winning runner at the International and U.S. Transplant Games.
The campus torchbearers described their experiences using terms like "surreal," "awesome," "cool" and "incredible."
"I’ve always loved the Olympics. I wanted to go to see them, but it’s so costly," said Lianne Boren, director of the campus Educational Talent Search and National Youth Sports Program. "I never dreamed that I could be a representative and participate in this small way."
Across the country, about 11,000 people carried the torch on a circuitous route toward Salt Lake City, where the Winter Olympic Games begin Feb. 8.
First-year student Eric Wagner was the first to carry the torch, transporting it through Arlington, Texas, near his hometown of Colleyville, in December.
"There were all these people cheering, and people waving American flags," he said. "All the businesses were shut down on the route. It was really, really cool."
Someone in Wagner’s hometown anonymously nominated him to participate in the Olympic Torch Relay. Wagner isn’t sure who it is, but his mother, Lisa Wagner, believes it may be his former principal at Colleyville Heritage High School. At school, Wagner was active with Students Against Drunk Driving, Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity.
But Wagner also has a family link to the Olympic Games. His grandfather, Hans "Harry" Wagner, represented Germany as a ski jumper in the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. He also coached the U.S. biathlon team in at the Winter Olympics in 1960. And Hans Wagner, Eric’s father, was a member of the U.S. Ski Team.
"We’ve always been huge Winter Olympic fans," Wagner said.
But Wagner barely had time to savor his Olympic memory. He had to fly back to UC Davis a couple hours after his run for a film studies final exam that night.
"I still got an A on my exam," Wagner said. "Things worked out nicely."
Boren, who ran the torch through Concord Jan. 19, was nominated for the honor by her officemate, Grace Brenneman.
Brenneman, an office program assistant, called Boren an inspiration for the way she took over the youth sports program, which serves local underprivileged students, several years ago after it was dropped by Intercollegiate Athletics.
"She went without hesitation and took it on and works very hard," Brenneman said.
For $335, a fee which supports Olympic athlete training, Boren purchased the torch she carried down Willow Pass Road and plans to bring it to campus to show students in the program. Sam Blanco, assistant director of the sports program, is also putting together highlights of Boren’s torch run to show the youngsters.
Boren enjoyed her experience as part of the torch relay so much that she and her family made a special point of going to see the torch skied down the hill at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe the next day.
Fourth-year student Scott Shropshire had a "ton of people" nominate him to carry the Olympic torch. He said he’s not sure whose nomination was selected, but people say he inspires them.
"I’ve kept going on even though things have been hard," he said.
Shropshire, a former UC Davis diver, was injured in a training accident in 2000. He is paralyzed from the neck down and uses a wheelchair.
Though he can longer compete, Shropshire has stayed close to UC Davis athletics. He lives with members of the swim team who help serve as his caretakers. He is also a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Board, which plans community service activities for athletes.
Shropshire carried the torch into the Squaw Valley Ski Resort Jan. 20 with a special holder attached to his wheelchair. Beforehand, he enjoyed talking to his fellow torchbearers.
"The others were pretty incredible," he said. "We all had a story. It’s refreshing that there are still nice people out there."
When he carried the torch from the 1960 Olympic cauldron on its first run out of Squaw Valley, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy Charles Goldman said he did it in the name of all of the students, staff and faculty members working with the Tahoe Research Group, UC Davis’ center for studying the ecology of the lake.
"Everyone’s contributed to the recognition of the work we’ve done for Lake Tahoe," he said.
Goldman said he was chosen by Squaw Valley organizers to carry the torch. He is well known in the Lake Tahoe area for his longtime conservation work on behalf of the lake. He also skis in local charity races.
After his torch run, Goldman rented out a banquet room at the Squaw Valley resort and hosted a party featuring his own smoked salmon for friends and two of his fellow torchbearers. Goldman also purchased the torch he carried during his leg.
On Feb. 8, he plans to watch the torch as it is lit in Salt Lake City’s Olympic stadium.
"They really make you feel a part of it," Goldman said.
Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932, firstname.lastname@example.org