Truckee Celebrates Olympic Spirit
Several thousand people crawled out of bed early Sunday morning and came out to see the Olympic torch as it swept through Truckee on its way to Salt Lake City.
Bundled-up Olympic enthusiasts began their day at a celebration at Donner Memorial State Park, where they sipped hot cocoa to the sounds of the Tahoe-Truckee High School band and tried to stay warm as they eagerly awaited the torch’s arrival.
When the crowd caught its first glimpse of Dana Hunting, one of the 11 Truckee torchbearers, jogging into the park in her shiny white Olympic attire, shots were fired by members of the Truckee Railroad Regulators and the crowd erupted into cheers, chanting “Dana! Dana!” People held 3-foot-long balloons tinted in red, white and blue and waved American flags that had been handed out earlier by Chevrolet, one of the sponsors of the torch relay event.
The torch was placed on a stand atop a snow mountain stage near the Donner Memorial statue for 15 minutes while a ceremony was held to honor local Olympians, past and present, and the torch convoy was given a chance to rest.
“I just want to thank all of the torchbearers, because it is their life experiences that truly signifies the Olympic spirit,” said local attorney Jim Porter, event master of ceremonies.
After the brief ceremony, Dana returned to the statue where she lit the torch of the next torchbearer, her husband Jeff.
“We didn’t find out that we were going to have that leg of the relay until that morning,” Jeff said. “The fact that Dana got to light my torch was so special for us. She looked like an angel that day.”
Jeff and Dana, managers of the local Radio Shack, are one of the few husband and wife teams to bear the 33-inch-long torch on its way to the Winter Games. Jeff and Dana were nominated for the position by family and friends for their courage and inspiration to others. Two years ago, Jeff suffered a massive stroke and underwent subsequent emergency brain surgery. With the patience and care provided by Dana, Jeff has exceeded all recovery expectations.
“Besides my wedding day and the day I got out of the hospital, this was truly the best day of my life,” Jeff said. “It was really intense. Our whole family and all of our friends were there, and everyone was crying. Everyone even pitched in and bought us a torch to keep.”
He and Dana will be heading to Salt Lake City in just a few weeks for the first week of the Olympic competition.
“I would really love to carry the torch [in Utah], but I think that’s a long shot,” Jeff said with a laugh.
After an emotional moment, the relay continued and Jeff set off, on schedule, for downtown Truckee via Donner Pass Road, which was lined with spectators. Children in ski hats sat on parents’ shoulders, while others perched on rooftops and gathered on the balcony of the Truckee Hotel just to catch a glimpse of this historic event.
“This was so exciting for us,” said Prosser Lake residents Diane and John Rossi. “We made a special trip to see this. We got here early and had breakfast downtown, and we got a great parking spot. We even got to stand next to the ex-mayor.”
By 11:30, the streets were beginning to clear as the torch had crossed the railroad tracks downtown and was heading out to Highway 89 for its trek to Squaw Valley USA.
Cmdr. Scott Berry of the Truckee Police Department said he was extremely pleased with the day’s events.
“There were no problems. We had a great turnout, a great crowd, and we were so fortunate with the weather,” Berry said in reference to the wild winter storm that rocked Truckee the next day, Monday.
Berry said he even bought one of the commemorative torch relay t-shirts.
President and CEO of the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce Rachelle Pellissier said she was incredibly proud of everyone who helped put on the event.
“Everything was great, especially the celebration at Donner Memorial Park,” Pellissier said. “I thought the balloons looked wonderful E especially after the six hours that five of us spent blowing them up. Seriously though, everyone was so nice and thankful for the event.”
Even the following day, torchbearer Patty Robbins said she was still feeling the excitement.
“I can’t even believe I was even able to sleep last night,” Robbins said. “[Carrying the torch] was like getting married and being an actress at the same time. It was one of those times when you have to stop and ask yourself, ‘Is this really happening?'”
Robbins carried the torch on Sunday in loving memory of her 17-year-old son, Bryan Richmond, whose life was cut tragically short last February when he was killed along with his friend Brendan Allan in an avalanche behind Squaw Valley USA.
“This was definitely one of the best things I’ve done in a long time,” she said.
Mark Walker, Olympic media relations manager for the torch relay, said bringing the torch to Truckee was really one of the highlights of the trip.
“It’s good to be back in the snow and the cold again. That’s what we winter sport people like,” Walker said.
Walker said Truckee was one of the final stops on the California portion of torch relay, which had been longer than any other state’s.
“The people of Truckee really deserved this, especially with the history of what happened up here at Donner Pass – all of the courageous people that trekked through here are really an inspiration to everyone.”