OLYMPIC TORCH LIGHTS UP LIVES

February 06, 2002 11:00 pm
BEARER OF TORCH: Delmer Hanson of La Grande was chosen to run with the Olympic torch because of work he has done to promote safety for the Union Pacific Railroad. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
BEARER OF TORCH: Delmer Hanson of La Grande was chosen to run with the Olympic torch because of work he has done to promote safety for the Union Pacific Railroad. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Delmer Hanson of La Grande was prepared physically to carry the Olympic torch late last month in Boise.

Nothing could have prepared him for the emotional jolts he was to experience.

It was amazing, truly amazing, Hanson said. It was one of the most emotional things I have ever done in my life.

One reason was an almost indescribable feeling of national pride which surrounded the event. All relay participants ran or walked between a line of people holding red, white and blue candles and American flags.

It was amazing. Everyone was so patriotic, Hanson said.

About 15,000 people attended the relay.

Prior to the event, the participants shared their life stories with each other.

After listening to the stories of the other torchbearers, I realized that the best heroes are the ones in our own communities, Hanson said.

The torchbearer Hanson followed was a woman who was in a serious accident when she was 15. She was in a coma for a year and had to relearn how to walk and talk.

Today the woman, now 29, is a graduate of Boise State University and is the mother of three children.

Another inspirational torchbearer was a 43-year-old man from Boise who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when he was 40. The man started running after the diagnosis because he fears that if he becomes bedridden he will remain so the remainder of his life.

The man is now a motivational speaker for those with debilitating diseases.

Hanson was chosen to run in the relay because of work he has done to promote safety for the Union Pacific Railroad.

Twenty-six family members and friends went to Boise to watch the 31-year Union Pacific employee. Most of them followed Hanson during his 352-yard leg.

I didnt anticipate it being as emotional as it was. I ran the whole segment with tears in my eyes, he said.

Hansons contingent included his daughter Jennifer Murray and grandson Alex of Fairbanks. They flew in from Alaska without Hansons knowledge and gave him a surprise greeting at Boises airport before the relay.

Hanson thought that he and his wife Susan, who was in on the secret, were at the airport to pick up some golf clubs for a friend.

I didnt know they were coming. They kept it as a surprise, Hanson said.

This combined with the excitement of the relay run left Hanson overcome with deep feelings.

Hanson will never forget the goodwill that was expressed following the run. People were coming up to all the relay participants asking to shake their hands and have their pictures taken with them.

Torchbearers were easy to identify because of the white Olympic uniforms they wore.

Hanson and the other torchbearers sought each other out following the relay legs to congratulate one another.

There was a lot of bonding between the torchbearers, Hanson said.

Individuals could keep their torches for $335. Hanson is among those who kept his.

Hanson brought his torch Monday to Island City Elementary School, where he spoke at a program recognizing the Olympics and kicking off a reading program.

The true heroes are those who light fires within us, Hanson told Island Citys students.

He said it could be a coach, a policeman, a teacher or anyone who gets people to pursue a career or direction they otherwise would not have.

Hanson considered lighting his torch at the school but decided not to.

I want the Olympic flame to be the only one that has ever burned in it, Hanson said.