Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Top 10 Day: I Was A Torchbearer

Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay
(photo: IN Bicentennial Commission)
One year ago, I heard about the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay, "designed to inspire and unify Hoosiers as one of the major commemorative events of the 2016 Bicentennial celebration." I registered to volunteer at the Lawrence County celebration, taught the suggested lesson to my students about the math and science behind a high-tech torch designed by Purdue engineering students, and researched the historic 92-county, 3,200-mile route the torch would take.

On a rather sad, rainy July 4 where every fun event had been rained-out, I learned I had been nominated to be a torchbearer. I remember staring at the message on my phone. It started to blur as I began to cry. I was a torchbearer!

The Anticipation
Fast forward to 4:30 P.M. on Wednesday, September 14. I was standing in my torchbearer's gear on Hwy 37 outside Arby's, the designated starting point for my 0.5-mi leg of the relay. I was scheduled to start at 5:30, but Lawrence County torchbearers had received an email informing us that the torch had reached the county line 15 minutes early.
Fun while waiting

Because Mom, Dad, Ed, and MaeBe were waiting at my "finish line" at 23rd Street, Noelle and Elizabeth, fellow BMS teachers and very good friends, had told me they would come hang out with me while I waited. Noelle was the first to arrive, but much to my surprise, even more friends came. Family, running friends, more BMS teachers, and even some of my students were gathering on the highway. More people had set up lawn chairs in the Arby's parking lot.

The appointed starting time came and went. I became nervous that all these people were going to be frustrated about standing outside on a warm day when they could be inside with Netflix and air conditioning. However, there was NO complaining. The atmosphere was electric. Hilary, another BMS teacher, kept saying, "This is HISTORY!" Arby's employees saw us all outside and brought us free drinks.

Getting the torch from Lauren
One of my students told me the next day that she had never seen me look so jittery or talk so fast. I could not calm down. I was nervous about successfully carrying the "heavy" (3.5-lb), flaming torch, excited that the event was imminent, and full of enthusiasm that a big bunch of wonderful people were there to celebrate Lawrence County and Indiana with me.

Around 6:30, an hour later than planned, we saw Lauren Winnefeld approaching with the Torch Relay Motorcade. A bunch of geese squawked as they flew overhead in groups. Someone said, "I feel like we should sing the National Anthem." It was time.

Carrying The Torch
You might think it's a ridiculous claim, but it's true: the next four minutes and 31 seconds were some of the best of my life. I realize I was running, something I do all the time, but the circumstances were special. I was overcome with thoughts and feelings. Here are the ones I can put into words.

  • I love Lawrence County, Indiana. I am so full of pride for our little community. In that moment, I was representing the county for our state. Because I am a student of local history, I also thought about our ancestors moving from Palestine at the river into Bedford, the same direction I was moving. That notion got me thinking about Indiana's and Lawrence County's 200-year history in general. Much has been done, much to do.
  • This is once-in-a-lifetime. I will not be alive for a tricentennial. It's unlikely that an Olympic torch will run Hwy 37 in Bedford. This event will never happen again. I was doing something I would never do again.
  • People GET this. At the start, all those folks waited patiently and eagerly. My family did the same at my finish. While I was running, people passed me in their cars cheering, phones out the window taking pics. The celebration was charged with elation.
  • I am part of something. This was the biggest feeling for me. Sure, anyone could move that torch from point A to point B, but in that moment, that person was me. I was the torchbearer. It was my job to keep this statewide relay going. The event depended on me. I was needed. I was part of something important, historical, and exciting. I was a torchbearer!

Torch selfie with Jimmy
Naturally, I started crying almost immediately.

You can see WBIW's live video of the first two minutes of my leg on facebook. I've watched it several times, but my mind's eye still remembers the perspective of doing it better than viewing it. It was unforgettable and moving, and I consider it a Top 10 moment in my life, easily.

When I finished, I passed the torch to my good friend, Jimmy Sowders. He took a "torch selfie" with me, and then began his part of the relay.

The Aftermath
A bunch of us headed downtown afterward in order to watch Becky Skillman light the cauldron by the courthouse. Ed and I played some music on the Harp Commons stage. I was singing the Lawrence County verse I wrote for "I've Been Everywhere" when she lit it. MaeBe got her picture taken by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission. Torchbearers, families, and other community members shared torch stories on a beautiful evening.

Some of the torchbearers
Another interesting detail is that my phone pinged all. night. long. People posted comments, pictures, and videos for a full day. I would put down my phone and pick it up two minutes later to find 45 notifications. It was even bigger than a facebook birthday, and that's saying something! :-) To me, all that attention on the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay proved that people recognized how special the event was for our community. It made me swell with even more pride for Lawrence County, and it capped off a day that I will always remember as one of my best.

I was a torchbearer!

More Pics
Thanks to Mom, Ed, Hope, Hilary, Noelle, Jerry, Christi, the Bicentennial Commision, WBIW, and tons of others for the pics and vids!

Running the torch relay
Media car taping
More running
Even more running
With Jimmy
Mom with a sign
Mom and Dad in a photo by the IN Bicentennial Commission
MaeBe in a photo by the IN Bicentennial Commission
“To me, Indiana’s Bicentennial Torch Relay is the perfect symbol of community fondness and involvement across generations. It highlights the connections between our history of characters who made Bedford better, the folks who are doing more good works today, and the young people who will be Bedford’s hard workers of the future. My love of and pride in Bedford, Indiana, and Lawrence County runs deeply. To be named a torchbearer touches me deeply, as well.” —my quote in the Times-Mail on September 8, 2016, six days before the relay came through Lawrence County.

THANK YOU to Mom, Dad, Jeremy, Angie, and Mr. S. for the nominations, and to Marla Jones for the awesome organization of the Lawrence County portion of the relay.


  1. How cool to get to carry a torch!

  2. Wow! I love it. Thanks for pointing us to this story. Glad you were able to be a part of the celebration this past weekend.

    1. Thank you so much! Both torchbearing duties brought me great joy and honor. :-)