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February 2001

Carrying the torch - My journey into history

Judith Geppart,
Olympic and Paralympic Torch Bearer.

Share the spirit

I have heard that the Olympic spirit means three things: peace, hope, and courage.

The Sydney games torch is a graceful arc of high tech aluminum and stainless steel with an outer shell symbolizing the Opera House and an inner bright blue layer symbolizing the waters of Sydney Harbour. An Aboriginal-hunting boomerang inspires the torch curvature. It is 28 inches long and weighs just over two pounds.

In November 1956, I remember watching the evening news, with my father and catching glimpses of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Torch Relay. This torch relay consisted entirely of young fit men all of whom had to be able to run a mile in six minutes or less.

But in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay it was going to be a different story. This time from 12-years and upward anyone was allowed to carry the torch. Unlike the Melbourne run, it would include women, children, parents, grandparents and disabled people.

During February 1999, the call went out for nominations as Community Olympic Torchbearers, so a friend of mine asked me if they could nominate me. My nomination was based on my many feats of individual accomplishments against the odds and also for having undertaken voluntary work, contributing to schools and the community over many years.

As a person with a disability I never imagined that I could contribute something towards the XXVII Olympic Games. Deep down I thought that it was a waste of time, because why would they have me on the Olympic Relay, when there would be so many other people worthy of this position.

Nine months went by, I had forgotten about the nomination. So you can imagine my surprise when arriving home from work, the week before Christmas, to find an official letter from SOCOG informing me that I was going to be a 2000 Community Olympic Torchbearer on Friday, September 15th 2000. It was going to be on Day 100, the day the Games opened.

This was the beginning of my journey into history, which I will never forget.

I remember staying up till midnight on May 10th, 2000 to watch the live telecast from Olympia, Greece. Watching the ‘lighting of the flame’ gave me the feeling that this ceremony included the dreams and aspirations of not only the athletes but also the thousands of volunteers who in some way were going to contribute part of their lives to these Olympic Games.

After watching it arrive and lighting of it on Australian soil at Uluru on June 8th 2000, now it was on the Australian leg of its Relay for 100 days. I followed the ‘flame’ every night on TV.

On August 14th, 2000 the Olympic Torch Relay officially arrived in NSW, now I knew that my turn to run was only weeks away. My segment of the Torch Relay was going to be along Wakehurst Parkway, Oxford Falls, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Friday, September 15th 2000.

The day finally arrived; it was a day I’ll never forget. I rose at 5.00am, after a sleepless night. I had to be at the collection point by 7.30am even though it was only 5km from where I live. It was slightly overcast but to me it would not have mattered what the weather was like, I was going to run with the Olympic Torch and that was all that I could think of.

After arriving at the collection point, I was introduced to my fellow Torchbearers and Escort Runners on our leg of the Torch Relay, which was going to be along Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

As I was going to do my segment of the Relay in my electric wheelchair. The Relay Officials had a special holder for me, with this I could carry the Torch myself. After attaching this to my chair, I was then introduced to my Escort Runner, Chris a local high school student. As I am unable to use my hands, he was given instructions on how he could assist me to ignite the Torch.

Nine Torchbearer’s and three Escort Runners filled the inside of our Torch Relay Shuttle Bus at 8.30am. We sang, we laughed, we cried, we were on our way to be dropped off at our designated starting points. Whenever anyone alighted from the bus an almighty cheer went out for him or her.

At 9.45am a policeman on a Harley Davidson motorcycle (specially built for the Torch Relays) drove up to assisted me in turning on the gas so that it was hissing out of the burner of my Torch. What a thrill it was to carry the Olympic flame, standing there at my assigned spot on Wakehurst Parkway, watching the incoming Torchbearer getting nearer and nearer. A few moments later, she ran up to me with her flaming Olympic Torch.

Igniting the torch

The "Olympic kiss"

Chris took my Torch out of its holder placed it in my hand and held my arm high so I could do the Olympic Torch ‘kiss’. (This is when two torches meet and the flame crosses from one torch to the other).

We paused, a few meters apart. The flame leaped across the gap between us, completing the arch we were forming and igniting my Torch with an impressive whoosh! The transfer of the flame was simply beautiful!

I paused for a moment to give her a hug, and then turned to wheel off on my segment of the route. With a host of work mates, friends and local residents cheering loudly, I began my journey, accompanied by my escort runner.

I proceeded along the Parkway for 400 metres wheel’n with the Olympic Torch so all could see the flame. Friends and families cheered, people from the side of the road were waving Australian flags and passing motorists honked their horns at me.

For more than 100 people, their moment of glory was vying for a brief glance of the white, blue and silver Olympic Torch perched aloft before cheering throngs of people. Seeing all the people there supporting the Torch, cheering me on and showing pride in their community. It was a great feeling. I wish everyone could have experienced that feeling.

Torch relay and well wishers.

All too soon, my run was coming to an end. The next Torchbearer was up ahead, waiting his turn. I paused to allow Chris to place the torch in my hand and again the flame leaped eagerly from my Torch to his. We hugged and I could feel a surge of the Olympic spirit passing through me to him.

For the remainder of that day I attended the Manly Celebrations. I spent hours just sitting and talking to people who would come up wanting their picture taken with me holding the Torch, or just wanting to touch or hold it, this was completely unforeseen by me.

This part of my life is now also part of the success of the Olympian Movement and will go down as "the best ever games".

Mind, body, spirit

The Sydney 2000 Paralympic Torch design was inspired by the Sydney Paralympic Games logo. The logo depicts a dynamic human form – represented by three graphics shapes – leaping triumphantly forward towards a new era, the Paralympic Games in 2000.

They symbolise life’s elements of Mind, Body and Spirit.

The three colours of the Paralympic Games logo (green, red and blue) are also the colours of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) logo. The IPC logo consists of three ‘tae-guks’ (tear drop shapes) and are the ‘Olympic rings’ of the worldwide Paralympic movement.

It is 28 inches long and weighs just over two pounds.

In March 2000, I attended a function where they had on display a replica of the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Torch. I was allowed to hold it for a couple of minutes and have my photo taken with it. The lady in-charge of the Torch handed me a card on which there was a Website, were there was a competition on how to win a position on the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Torch Relay. There were only 300 positions Australia wide, so I thought that I would have to be pretty lucky to win one. But never-the-less I entered the competition and gave it ago.

In late July I received a phone call informing me that there had been 59,000 entries and I had won a place on the XI Paralympiad Sydney 2000 Paralympic Torch Relay.

This time the Torch Relay was for 10 days, starting on October 5th 2000. The Paralympic Torch was lit in Canberra before being flown 11,500km to Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and Brisbane. It then travelled back to NSW and began a 750km-road trip through the greater Sydney region including the main regional centres of Wollongong and Newcastle. Again I followed the ‘flame’ every night on TV.

My segment of the Torch Relay was along Pittwater Road, Dee Why, a suburb on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Tuesday, October 17th 2000.

Again I had another sleepless night; I rose at 4.00am because I had to be at the collection point by 5.20am. The day was bleak and cold but this didn’t deter me because I felt a great sense of pride at being able to represent my own disabled community.

Once again, nine torchbearers filled the inside of our Torch Relay Shuttle Bus at 5.30am. This time it was different because four out of the nine of us had a disability. So here I was in my wheelchair sitting between other wheelchairs and walking sticks with all the same emotions which fill the bus only weeks before. Again whenever anyone alighted from the bus an almighty cheer went out for him or her.

After being dropped off at my designated starting point at 6.30am, I was amazed at the number of people who dodged the peak hour traffic just to have their photo taken with the Torch. As it was early morning and the busiest time of day, it was decided that I should have a motorcycle policeman with me, because it was quite dangerous sitting in my wheelchair on the side of the main road.

Unlike the Paralympic Torch Relay we had no Escort Runners. So at 6.55am this policeman assisted me in turning on the gas so that it was hissing out of the burner of my Torch. A few moments later, a Torchbearer ran up to me with his flaming Paralympic Torch.

We paused, a few meters apart. The flame leaped across the gap between us, completing the arch we were forming and igniting my Torch with an impressive whoosh!

Paralympic Rorch Relay.

Set no limits!

This time I proceeded along the Pittwater Road for 500 metres wheel’n with the Torch so all could see the flame. Even at that time of the morning schoolchildren, parents, workers, friends and families cheered me on from the side of the road, they were waving Australian flags and passing motorists were honking their horns at me. They all wanted to have a brief glance of the dark blue, red and silver Paralympic Torch. Again, it was a great feeling.

Once again, all too soon my run was coming to an end. The next Torchbearer was up ahead waiting her turn. I paused to allow the flame to leap eagerly from my Torch to her. We exchanged hugs and all to soon the ‘flame’ was gone.

The remainder of that day I spent at a Special School giving the students a chance to hold, the Torch and having my photo taken with some local children.

My two torches are now dark and silent. Yet, the spirit, which we all shared for a brief moment, continues to burn, touching lives in ways we cannot imagine.

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