The flame marches on
January 04, 2002
Mary Prichard/Messenger Post Staff
The Olympic torch made its way through the area on Monday.
Not even typical Rochester cold weather could keep Michael Gage from one of the most momentous events of his life - carrying the Olympic torch through the city.
Suited up in the official 2002 Olympic running suit, Gage, of Penfield, took the flame from another torchbearer and proudly made his four-block stretch of the flame's journey on the scooter he uses to get around. Gage, a teacher at Penfield High School, has degenerative multiple sclerosis.
Keith Burhans of Irondequoit was another of the nearly 70 locals tapped to carry the torch through the Rochester area on New Year's Eve day.
Starting at 1 p.m. Monday, Burhans carried the torch on East Main Street, in downtown Rochester between University and Richmond avenues.
Like Gage and most of the other torchbearers, Burhans has become a hero in his own right. In 1995, he became a double amputee below the knees after a powerboat crashed through his boat as he was fishing with his two daughters, both of whom he saved. Within a couple of months, he was walking on artificial limbs, and with a very positive outlook, returned to his active life.
Burhans' disability has not kept him from his love of sailing. An active member of the Rochester Yacht Club since the 1970s, he quickly resumed sailing for pleasure and competition. In 1999, he was part of a three-member team - one member a quadriplegic - that placed second in the World Disabled Sailing Competition. The team had the ultimate honor of representing the U.S. in the Summer Paralympics held in Sydney, Australia, the following year. (The Paralympics are the Olympics for the physically disabled.)
As a Paralympian, Burhans was the 2001 recipient of the Rochester Press Radio Club's distinguished Holleder Award, bestowed on "a person whose active life has exhibited the highest level of sportsmanship, character, courage and achievement."
"He is a role model for many - disabled and abled alike," said Debbie Kenney, spokeswoman for Rochester Rehab. Burhans today is a member of the Rochester Rehabilitation Center's board of directors as well as its SportsNet Advisory Committee.
Burhans' latest honor was being nominated and chosen to be one of 11,500 torchbearers nationwide who will carry the 2002 Olympic torch as it travels to Salt Lake City, location of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
The torch made its way through this area Monday before heading toward Buffalo and out of New York.
Chevrolet Motors, Coca-Cola and the Salt Lake Olympic Committee sponsored essay contests for the nominations of individuals to carry the flame on its approximate 13,500-mile travels.
The flame itself is technically the only part that passes on. The torches, weighing about three pounds each, have enough fuel inside a 4-ounce tank to keep the flame lit for about 20 minutes. The gas is turned on for each torch bearer just before the previous bearer arrives. The next torch is lit and continues on its journey, according to torch designer Sam Shelton, of Georgia Institute of Technology.
The torch began its local travels on Irondequoit's East Ridge Road. The bearers continued on Goodman Street, across the river to West Ridge Road, with ceremonies being held at various points along the way.
Barbara Saccone of Macedon had her chance to take the flame as well. Saccone, an emergency medical technician and volunteer with the Macedon Fire Department, was nominated by her sister, Mary Simpson.
Sister Rosemary Sherman, a.k.a. the "Running Nun" and a social worker at the Mary Cariola Children's Center, said she didn't have enough words to describe the feeling of carrying the torch.
"It was unbelievable," she said.
"I've been a runner for 18 years and never had an experience like that."
©Irondequoit Post 2002
©Irondequoit Post 2002