Olympic torch ignites hearts in Sechelt

If the Olympic spirit is the will that defies adversity and the heart that sees past common sense, then to watch Sarah Doherty's torch run was to see that spirit move.

Doherty is a local hero who lost a leg in a car accident in 1973. She took part in the first Paralympian adaptive ski racing demonstration in the Calgary Olympics in 1988, and was the first woman on crutches and one leg to summit Mount Rainier in 1984. She has since summitted Alaska's Mount McKinley and Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro.

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And as Doherty made her way through the ecstatic crowd of well over 1,000 face-painted, flag-wearing, tissue paper torch-brandishing, tambourine-jangling kids and adults who gathered in Sechelt's Spirit Square for the Olympic torch ceremony Thursday morning, Feb. 4, the crowd cheered madly.

A smiling Doherty, who had attached the torch to the side of her right crutch with a clip, crossed the square, cheered on by the crowd, and climbed the stage. She turned to face the crowd, smiling from ear to ear, and raised high the torch - still attached to her crutch - to a surge of cheers. Then, she crossed the stage and lit the cauldron.

Only then did the emotion overtake her and - like many in that crowd - she reached up a hand to brush back tears.

As she stood with the torch, the choir from Sechelt Elementary School and L'École du Pacifique led the crowd in the national anthem, switching between English and French.

At the end of the anthem, Doherty was given a chance to speak a few words to the crowd.

"Whether you're an elite athlete or you're somebody who's facing a challenge every day, it really takes lots of people behind you believing in you for you to believe in yourself," she said. "And I really think part of the experience and the spirit of this Olympic flame is all about community and what you can accomplish with people behind you."

Asked what message of hope she would give to the hundreds of kids in the crowd, Doherty offered a few simple, yet visibly heartfelt words.

"Dream big and follow that light within, and possibilities happen," she said. "That's what I have experienced."

Doherty's run was the culmination of a ceremony that began with a series of performances by Arbutus Sounds, Gaetan Bergevin, Acapella Strait, Em Evol (Jake Downie and Doug Mercer), Elphinstone Secondary School Jazz Band and two youth choirs.

During the ceremony, Olympic corporate sponsor Royal Bank of Canada presented a $5,000 donation to the Sunshine Coast Salmonid Enhancement Society, and presented a painting of a torchbearer to the Arrowhead Centre Society and Sunshine Coast Community Services - created onstage, within minutes, by artist Fritz Branscha, who painted as the canvas spun.

Sechelt's ceremony fell on Day 98 of the torch's 106-day relay, which, at 45,000km, is the longest national Olympic relay in history. By the time the torch arrives in Vancouver, 12,000 torch bearers will have run it through 1,037 communities, it will have stopped for 189 celebrations, and it will have reached 90 per cent of the Canadian population.

After leaving Sechelt - and as Coast Reporter went to the press - the torch set off for the rest of its Coast journey, with stops planned at Sechelt Indian Band lands, Selma Park Road in Davis Bay, McCullough Road in Wilson Creek, and Roberts Creek Elementary School; a celebration at Gibsons' Winegarden park; and stops on Marine Crescent, at Hopkins Landing, and at Langdale, before leaving the Coast on a special sailing of B.C. Ferries' new ship, the Coastal Renaissance. The torch relay continued up Highway 99 to Squamish, the site of a huge celebration Thursday night.

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