I Carried the Olympic Torch Today

No, really. I’d like to say that’s why I haven’t posted anything here in three weeks (you know, because I’ve been running across Siberia), but that’s not why.

But I did carry the Olympic torch today!

Here’s how it started. I was in a cafe, working, when this came through my feed:

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“Animals,” of course, refers to members of the Trail Animals Running Club, a local trail running group I’m part of. Everything they do is a blast, with great spirit and a sense of fun…and usually pretty hardcore, except when it’s not. So naturally my ears perked right up.

Like any responsible working person and mother, I turned to Facebook: “So….Would YOU go pull your kindergartner out of school early to help run the Olympic torch across the city?”

A resounding “yes!!” all around. Next step: Emailing the kindergarten teacher to see if he felt this was a legitimate reason to pull Max out of school early. He seemed to agree.

Tremendously exciting stuff, right? Carrying the Olympic torch through Boston on its way to Russia for the 2014 Winter Games?

Weirdly, I couldn’t find the torch schedule online, nor any mention of its coming through Boston. Well, I thought, they probably try to keep it low-key so they’re not overrun with mad crowds.

I checked Facebook again.

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OK. This sounded like the real deal.

I realized Ben might feel left out if Max and I had this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity without him, so I called his preschool to discuss picking him up early. The timing worked out. But when I got there, they’d been explaining to Ben about the Olympics, and he seemed to think I was picking him up so that I could ski and dive in competition. I chattered on about how this torch was going around the world, all the way to Russia, and how it had been to the bottom of the sea and up in space (no, really, it did go the International Space Station!).

With both boys and the stroller and a pile of snacks in the car, we headed to Fenway Park. For the first time in weeks, I was not late for something. I was, in fact, 45 minutes early. So what!

I made sure the kids were bundled up in snow pants, winter coats, boots, mittens, etc., since it was about 24 degrees out. Then we spotted the Red Sox mascot, this green creature named Wally, standing in front of a big group of people. I assumed it was a Fenway Park tour. Then Wally started jogging down the street carrying a plastic-looking thing.

“Look, kids,” I said. “He’s holding a fake torch. We’re waiting for the real one to come by, and we’ll run with that one.”

Wally overheard me and pointed to his torch.

“What?” I said. “That’s the real torch?” He nodded vigorously. “Ok, kids,” I said, wheeling the stroller around to chase him, “Here we go!”

Wally and the crowd headed into Fenway Park. I spotted four runners waiting outside. I nodded to them, hesitated, and then followed the crowd in.

The other runners followed me. We walked right past the security guy like we were part of the main group. Then we were on the infield, near third base. Wally and the crowd posed for photos; it was clearly a hand-picked crowd.

Yes, it was very cold.

Yes, it was very cold.

Wally, the torch, and the hand-picked crowd were behind me, getting their pictures taken.

We wandered out again and I found/met Sam, the TARC guy, and realized I’d met him on a long trail run a year or so ago. He’s a fast local ultra-runner who, when he himself isn’t racing, does things like pace friends for 58 miles of their 100-mile races. No, really.

Then we met a guy who seemed to be in charge, and I found out the real story of our mysterious Olympic torch-carrying. Gary, who’d put out the original summons to runners, works for Avaya, the company handling all of the telecommunications/network for the 2014 Olympic Games. The official Olympic torch is actually several; it’s not a single torch that is carried from Greece to the games site. Several different ones are used. So…the Olympic Committee, or Russia, or whoever handles the used torches, sent one of the used-in-the-official-Olympic-torch-relay torches to Avaya as a thank-you.

Avaya, for their part, sends the torch around the country, where it is photographed in various locales and at different events. Today in Boston, the torch* was to be photographed at Fenway Park, then at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Logistics of driving it there were not working out (parking, traffic, etc.), so the company had the brilliant idea of asking one of its employees, a diehard runner (Gary), to run it there. Wanting to make it a fun event, Gary put out the word to local runners he knows, who put out the word…

So there were maybe 10 of us there to run with him.

Except instead of running at 3:30 p.m. as planned, we waited…and waited…and waited…

Milling Runners

Milling Runners

Turns out that due to some miscommunication, the torch had accidentally been driven over to Boylston Street after all. Oops! So after a few phone calls, it was supposedly on its way back to Fenway.

This took an hour.

Finally, torch in hand, we headed out to run the mile from Fenway Park to the finish line. Except now it was getting dark.

No matter. We started running. We all took turns carrying the torch. It wasn’t lit, because after our run it would be dropped into its shipping box, brought to FedEx, and delivered to Detroit, its next destination. Someone (I will not name any names) joked about how Detroit would probably sell it to pay its debts. Anyway…So FedEx doesn’t like to ship flammable items, or items that have recently been filled with a flammable liquid.

That thing is heavier than it looks. Everyone had a chance to carry it, including both Max and Ben. As we ran down Boylston, Gary started announcing to the people we passed, “Olympic torch! Olympic torch from Sochi!” As we were a small band of mismatched runners with no papparazzi, no one seemed impressed. At one point, in fact, I worried people might think we had stolen the Olympic torch…or else were just insane.

We got to the Boston Marathon finish line. When there was a break in traffic, we took some pictures on the finish line, in the middle of the street. The official photographer never made it, as far as I know. We eventually left, as it was the kids’ dinnertime, and they were getting cold, and it was just time to go.

Me with the actual Olympic torch, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon

Me with the actual Olympic torch, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon

Though Ben was mad that we left the scene; he wanted us to run with it to Russia, even though I tried to explain this torch had already BEEN to Russia.

And that, in short, is how I came to carry the Olympic torch through Boston.**


*This is the actual path of the actual relay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Winter_Olympics_torch_relay.

** I’ll spare you the part about how one child was crying from cold feet when we reached the car, and how the other was really hungry, and the first one was too cold to be hungry, and it was then dinnertime and we were firmly stuck in rush-hour traffic in Boston, and I decided to “beat the highway traffic” by driving crosstown through Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville (not any faster, but we got to see some lovely Christmas lights!), and I realized we had nothing for dinner at home….but really, you have heard enough by now. We carried the Olympic torch.



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