A piece of the Olympic spirit visited the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and the city of Terre Haute on Jan. 8 when the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay passed through the city on the way to its final destination, the Salt Lake Olympic Cauldron in Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium.
Dressed in matching white wind-breaker jackets, long sleeve T-shirts, wind pants, fleece hats and gloves, the torchbearers shared personal stories of triumph, courage and victory while preparing for the adventure that awaited them. The 11,500 torchbearers nation-wide were nominated by friends and family because they are inspirational and courageous individuals who represent the spirit of America.
Their journey began early Tuesday morning at Moench Hall and continued into downtown Terre Haute until noon.
The stories of inspiration range from a six-year-old born with brain injuries who inspires a runner to overcome terrible odds and move forward, to stories of friendships that have lasted many years.
Debbie Robison of Decatur, Ill. was nominated to be a torchbearer by her nephew. Robison was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January 2000 and was re-diagnosed in 2001. She dedicated her run to ovarian cancer research.
"Being nominated is a great honor, a surprise and unbelievable all at the same time. I'm very excited to be here today," Robison said.
Robinson, Ill. native Elleanor Laswell, who is a retired special education teacher and works with the mentally handicapped, agrees with Robison.
"I think being a part of the relay is great. After hearing all the inspirational stories this morning, I realize that I'm in good company. It brings tears to my eyes to hear about the difficulties these people have faced and how they have overcome and triumphed," Laswell said.
A Rose-Hulman alumnus also helped in the festivities by carrying the torch through downtown Terre Haute. Carl Troike is a 1988 Rose-Hulman graduate and is a production manager at Cabot Corp. in Tuscola, Ill.
"My mom briefly mentioned she had nominated me last February, but I blew it off thinking it was very nice of her to do, but what have I really done to deserve the honor? To say the least, I was very surprised when the Airborne Express person came to my door asking me to sign for a package from Nebraska. I was even more surprised when I opened the letter and it was from Coca-Cola informing me of my nomination," Troike said.
Three days earlier, alumnus Warren Mickens, a 1977 mechanical engineering graduate, carried the flame on Poplar Avenue near downtown Wilmette, Ill. Mickens was nominated for the honor by Lucent Technologies. At that time, he was vice president of network planning and engineering for Ameritech and had just spent a long year improving the performance of the Ameritech network.
"The experience was very emotional," Mickens said. "It has to be uplifting to find yourself running the streets of Chicagoland and having every man, woman, child and dog in the neighborhood come out and cheer."
The most moving part of the run, Mickens recalled, was hearing the other runners share stories of how they were nominated. "There are some very special people in this country who just refuse to surrender in some very tough circumstances. The survivors of cancer and other major illnesses were the most moving."
Feelings of excitement filled the air as the Olympic caravan entered the campus and the Olympic Flame was proudly displayed. The first torch was lit and the 34th day of the 65 day, 13,500 mile, 46-state adventure that carries the torch from Olympia, Greece to Salt Lake City, Utah began.
After leaving Terre Haute, the flame traveled through Illinois and Missouri on its way to Utah. The journey that began in Atlanta, Ga. on Dec. 4 continued cross country until Feb. 8 when the torch arrived in Salt Lake City for the Opening Ceremony. In addition to being carried by 11, 500 torchbearers, the Olympic Flame traveled via automobile, airplane, train, boat, dogsled, skier, horse-drawn sleigh, snowmobile, ice skater and covered wagon during its historic adventure out West.