Carrying a torch for making Olympic history

Spectators in Victoria watch as Olympic medalists Simon Whitfield and Catriona Lemay-Doan head out with the newly lit Olympic torch for the first day of the relay Oct. 30.

The Olympic torch isn’t scheduled to come to the Peninsula until February, but already there are a handful of residents gearing up for their big day.

We just don’t know who most of them are.

Repeated attempts to get a full list of torch bearers from the Vancouver 2010 Torch Bearer committee were unsuccessful.

In an email Nov. 28, committee member Paula Webber said names would not be posted online until 48 hours before they are scheduled to participate in the relay.

However, several local residents chosen to carry the torch have come forward, including Elgin Park Secondary Grade 9 student Nick Rutckyj, Wal-Mart employee Cheryl Cruickshank and retiree Alfred Bennett.

Earlier this fall, there was criticism when CTV, official media rights-holder of the Olympics, announced 27 of the torchbearers were “some of Canada’s finest storytellers” – employees of CTV or affiliate companies. Among those on the list were television personalities Brian Williams, Jennifer Hedger and Ben Mulroney, and CTV was accused of using the torch relay to promote its programming, at the expense of other Canadians who would have been picked.

The three local torchrunners contacted by Peace Arch News confirmed they were chosen after applying to the torch-selection committee earlier this year.

“I saw a commercial on TV, and applied online after that,” Rutckyj explained.

As part of the process, Rutckyj – a member of Elgin Park Secondary’s junior boys volleyball team and also a member of White Rock’s all-star baseball team that went to the Little League World Series in 2007 – had to write about how he planned to live an active lifestyle while also making the environment and his community a better place.

“I told them I would recycle more, and try to reduce my carbon footprint,” he said. “I was really surprised they picked me – just ecstatic.

“Not too many people get this kind of opportunity – all my friends are pretty jealous.”

Rutckyj is scheduled to carry the torch on Feb. 9, Day 103 of the relay, as it makes its way from Surrey through White Rock to Richmond, although he isn’t sure yet where he’ll carry it.

Rutckyj said he’s been told it will likely be along the beach, or perhaps along the highway.

“It’s something I’m never going to forget, and I just want to make the most if it. And it’s on a weekday, too, so I’ll get some time off school, and that’s never a bad thing,” he laughed.

Bennett, 89, a British Army veteran and formerly a policeman in London and in New Zealand, was chosen to carry the torch on the same day, and he too does not yet know his part of the route.

Cruickshank, who will bear the torch in Vancouver on Feb. 12, the last day of the relay, was selected for sponsorship by Wal-Mart after her entry was announced the winner of a 200-word essay contest conducted by the chain. She is also being sponsored by Coca-Cola.

The relay, the longest in Olympic history, began Oct. 30 in Victoria and has seen the torch travel across the country to the Maritimes before turning west for the journey back to Vancouver.

The relay is currently in Quebec.

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