DUNCAN — Editor’s Note: Ed Darling was chairman of the Stephens County Torch Run in July 1989 that celebrated the Olympic Festival in Oklahoma City. Here is a column he wrote then about that experience. Twenty-three years later, the thrill remains. The Olympic Games of 2012 officially began Friday night with the lighting of the Olympic Flame in London.
The experience was simply incredible, a magical moment to be treasured, a memory to be cherished.
For a scant few moments here last week, I was a small part of the United States Olympic program. Officially. Proudly. And it is an occasion I will likely never forget.
Goose bumps jumped on my arms and raced down my legs when a member of the U.S. Olympic Festival ‘89 Torch Run caravan handed me the flaming four-pound torch to begin the evening portion of the journey through Duncan streets.
The lump in my throat was real, the muscles in my arm and hand were tense, poised for a tight grip and a steady grasp. The adrenaline inside me bubbled and my chest swelled with pride.
In my hand was the ultimate worldwide symbol of athletic success.
As I jogged down the highway, cameras clicked. Hands clapped. Faces smiled. Voices cheered. Horns honked. Sirens screamed. Flags waved. And emotion oozed.
It was exhilarating, I tell you. Moving. Thrilling. And oh so satisfying. I could have run for miles.
Appropriately, the feeling was not mine alone. Fifty-five other runners representing Duncan, Marlow and Comanche helped carry the flame across the 13-mile Stephens County course. Each of them, I imagine, has a story to tell, a vision to share, a moment in the spotlight to relish.
My good fortune was to accompany the torch the entire distance, to see the powers of encouragement along the way, to watch excited little kids -- some waving tiny American flags -- race alongside the runners, to gaze at signs and marquees saluting the event, to notice business people in coats and ties or shoppers interrupt their daily activities to stand in doors or ease toward the streets and break out in spontaneous applause, to see cars stop and passengers empty for a closer look and to watch proud co-workers take pictures, shout words of encouragement and whistle as the torch passed.
It also fell my lot to see the toothpaste smiles and antsy looks of anticipation as the flame neared each expectant runner, to watch their arms shoot excitedly and victoriously to the sky upon completion of their run and to sense their fulfillment in being part of a once-in-a-lifetime happening.
It was a sensation that expanded beyond the individual runners, too, one that united communities and shared slices of Americana
Marlow citizens recited the pledge of allegiance and sang “Oklahoma!” in unison on the steps of a historic downtown church. Comanche residents gathered en masse under flapping flags at a Dairy Queen to recognize its runners and to cheer on the caravan.
And residents from the entire county watched in utter awe as a single runner -- Duncan’s Mike Gray -- carried the torch through a corridor of American flags as the Chisholm Trail Municipal Band played the Olympic theme and Fuqua Park observers stood to applaud. And it was equally moving when he and Duncan Olympian Carolyn Koch, a marksman, held the flame aloft and paraded around the gazebo before lighting the local cauldron that officially stamped Stephens County’s involvement on the journey that will ultimately travel over 3,000 miles through all 77 Oklahoma counties.
The goose bumps are back just thinking about it again, appreciating the opportunity to share the magic of an unforgettable Olympic moment and realizing the electrified spirit that engulfed us and brought us all together as one. It was and will always be special.
Now, each time we see that single, dramatic flame, we’ll know personally of its mesmerizing power and its symbolic strength, understanding perhaps more fittingly just how fortunate we really are to cheer “USA, USA.”
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