February 7, 2002
Even people who usually hate sports can't help but take notice when the Olympics take place, especially this year. As demonstrated by the Olympic Torch Relay introducing this international event, the Olympics is about living life to its fullest. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society applauds its 45 representatives (view photographs) who had the honor of carrying the torch this year, passing along its significant message of fraternity, strength of will, and triumph of the human spirit.
In 1936, the Olympic Torch Relay was reinstated at the war-shadowed 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. This year there were 210,000 nominees to carry the torch to Salt Lake City. Of those, about 11,250 were chosen to partake in the journey through 46 states and over 13,500 miles.
It is one of the characteristics of the Torch that, in passing through many thousands of hands down through the decades, individual stories of triumph and determination-both famous and obscure-become woven into a single narrative.
Each of the Society's representatives has a personal story of courage. Robin Creemer, from the Mid-America Chapter, voices the sentiment of all of them: "It was an unbelievable, life-changing experience." Robin, who is in her 24th year with MS, saw the event as a chance to celebrate the achievements of her life, despite long-term and recent adversity. Her husband Lee had recently died of a heart attack, and she'd lost both parents earlier in the year. "Still, I am a walking miracle," Robin says. "I wanted to carry the torch for the world, but I wanted to walk for Lee."
It was Peter Herschend, also from the Mid-America Chapter, who nominated Robin as a torchbearer. Peter has raised over $600,000 since 1990 in support of the work of the Society through the MS 150 Bike Tour. He rode his first MS 150 for the athletic challenge as much as the cause, but then he met Robin on that tour and became inspired by her story. This year's Olympic Theme is "Light the Fire Within," and Peter took this theme directly to heart with regard to the MS cause: "All of us who are free of MS," Peter says, "need to keep that fire burning within to find a cure.
"It was raining when Joanne Wolf carried the torch on behalf of the Ohio Valley Chapter, and in retrospect she's glad.
When I heard about the opportunity, I looked at my husband and said, I want to do this. People who live with adversity but don't let it hamper them-that's what life is about. MS is one element of my life, it's not my whole life. We live with the adversity of MS, but that's not the end of it. We all go on, we keep going and persevere.
"Some of the greatest triumphs come out of adversity," agrees Cindy Ray (Kentucky-Southeast Indiana Chapter), who views carrying the torch as a way to raise awareness about MS. "The idea is to show people that I can go out and have a life, have freedom."
Dick Rosetta, from the Utah State Chapter, is the co-chair of the chapter's annual Dinner of Champions Committee, which names outstanding local athletes of the year. He's also spent 39 years writing about athletes in Utah on a local and national level and felt a palpable connection between the two worlds. "To carry the torch was a microcosm of what all those years meant," Dick says. "Not only for star athletes, but common people."
Mindy Alpert carried the Torch through four blocks of a Queens neighborhood. Mindy was diagnosed with MS in 1998, and was glad to participate given her athletic background (She was recruited to Cornell for tennis and basketball). "I won't be playing in the Olympics, but this is a great way to participate." Together with other New Yorkers, Mindy noted that the Olympic Spirit seemed to offset the effects of September 11th. "
Part of what made it so special is that it was a reinforcement of the fact that we go on," adds Zoe Koplowitz (New York City Chapter).
We just go on. For me it was moving from a space to survival to a space of creativity. It was also an opportunity to meet 'ordinary people' who lead extraordinary lives. I've always believed in this, and after the World Trade Center, we saw what so many of these people did, and how so many of them found time to do some good.
Zoe, who holds the record as "The World's Slowest Marathon Runner," shattered a 102-year-old tradition by being the first person with her level of disability to complete the elite runner's Boston Marathon Course. To date she has completed 13 consecutive New York City Marathons. "The Olympics have always been part of my life," Zoe concludes. "They exemplify dignity in the face of adversity, and I have drawn on that many times at the end of a marathon."
For Additional Information
© 2002 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society