by Kristina Groves from Calgary, AB
Feb 8, 14
When I was ten or eleven, we stopped for gas at a Petro Canada station on the way home from the cottage one weekend. Now, that summer Petro Canada was staging a Canada-wide campaign to find torchbearers to run in the Olympic Torch Relay for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. Instantly, in my mind’s eye, I could see myself running, effortlessly, bouncing like a gazelle, across the plains of Africa, with the blazing Olympic torch held high.
I was inspired. I picked up a ballot and filled it out immediately. And there was no doubt in my mind that I would get picked. To make sure, I picked a handful of ballots.
That night at the kitchen table I carefully filled out nineteen additional ballots.
From then on, every time we passed a Petro Canada, I thought of the leg that I would run. I dreamed about the jacket I might get to wear, and who would pass me the torch, and the hoards of screaming fans who would line the streets to cheer as I ran by.
A few weeks later at the cottage, my mother, who must
have cherished my childish dream, suggested that, if I were going to be carrying the torch in the relay, I’d better start training.
“You know,” she said, “that torch is going to be pretty heavy,
and you’re going to be running for quite a while, maybe you should practice.”
So off I went, a tiny wisp of a girl, down the dirt road, running all by myself with a hammer held high in my right hand like a blazing Olympic torch. There was no jacket and there were no fans along the side of the road, but it might as well have been the actual Olympic Relay, because I sure felt like I was running in it. I felt exhilaration and gushing excitement. My arm got pretty tired so I took breaks along the way. And when cars passed I hid the hammer by my side so no one could see it.
It came as a surprise to me when I didn’t get chosen to run. It wasn’t the kind of surprise that happens instantly, but the kind that dawns slowly. The kind where anticipation dissolves into disappointment.
The kind of surprise that washes away a small piece of childhood.
But even though none of my twenty ballots made it into the hands of the powers that be, something about the Olympics took hold of me and wouldn’t let go.
A few months later, glued to the television, I watched legendary Canadian speed skater Gaetan Boucher race his final Olympic race and speed skating became the sport through which my Olympic dreams took flight. And from the first time I skated, one cold and blustery day in February on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, I knew that I would race in the Olympics.
After all these years, I’ve never been able to pinpoint why I was so captivated by the idea of running with the Olympic torch. I suppose something about the notion of running with the Olympic flame, lit by the rays of the sun in Greece, expanded my little eleven year old world - allowed me to comprehend that there was something out there bigger than me; something powerful enough to bring people from all corners of the globe together to celebrate sport in peace.
Or maybe I just thought it would be cool to run around with a flaming stick full of gas.
Whatever the reason, I sure wanted to run in that relay back in 1988 and I was pretty disappointed when it dawned on me that I wasn’t going to get the chance. Although I went to compete in the games myself - three times - I always carried a torch for – well – carrying the torch.
So when I learned that the 2010 Olympic Winter Games would be held in Vancouver, my heart skipped a beat – that meant the Olympic flame would be coming too! The spirit of that little eleven year-old girl was roused again. Maybe this time I would have my chance.
Sure enough, twenty-two years after my dream began, a letter arrived, along with a toque, mittens and my very own official Olympic Torch Relay tracksuit. “ Congratulations Kristina!” the letter began … “You have been chosen…”
I was advised by many people, that I should savor the run, enjoy it, take my time. And I told myself that I would do that. I would take it all in and cherish every single moment.
Turns out that was a lot of hooey. Turns out the second my torch was lit I took off like a rocket. It was as if they had lit my feet on fire too. I just wanted to RUN! Like a kid, I ran with no appreciation for what I was doing. I ran without a care in the world. No thoughts, no ‘moments’, I was just running. With the Olympic Flame, and a smile on my face as wide as Canada.
It was one of the purest, most joyful moments of my life, unspoiled by thought, anticipation or expectation of any kind. There were no strings attached, no shoes to fill, no hopes to fulfill; it was just as it would have been had I gotten the chance to run when I was eleven. Remembering it today still sends shivers down my spine.
Not long after that run, I competed in those Olympics. In Vancouver. And the joy and disappointment I felt throughout those sixteen days, from winning a surprise bronze and wonderful silver in my individual races, to our crushing failure in the team pursuit, all made for a real and human experience. But looking back, those experiences do not and will not ever compare with the brief, blissful, beautiful moments on that cool, dark January morning in Calgary, when I finally fulfilled my first Olympic dream … and ran with the torch.