This article was written for Arkansas Health & Living Magazine in 2002.
“Hold it high!”
As I turned to begin my leg of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Torch Relay, those words echoed in my mind. As I lifted the golden flame above my head, I thought about the advice of countless track coaches: the most important part of any relay race is the baton exchange. Carrying the Olympic Flame as one of more than 11,000 Torch Bearers proved this once again. Reflecting on my role in this 13,000 mile journey, I am reminded of three important life principles.
Life is Short
The Torch earers gathered together at a local grocery store before being shuttled to where we would receive the flame. All those dressed in white, silver, and blue shivered and shook hands. I met the man who would pass the flame to me and the man to whom I would pass the flame. Both of their stories reminded me that our lives are like mist that appears for a little while, then vanishes. In the same way that each Torch Bearer only carries the flame only two-tenths of a mile, our lives are but a short distance here on earth.
I received the flame from Dan, a grocery store executive. He was excited about running through the neighborhood where he grew up. He told me, with a twinkle in his eye, about the area and some of the changes that had occurred since he lived there. Then the twinkle disappeared momentarily. An armed robber had killed his son. His son was the manager of the grocery store we stood in front of—the same store that was destroyed by a tornado a few years ago. The twinkle returned as Dan talked about his wife and other children. He also wondered aloud about whether his life is making a difference.
The man I passed the flame to is named Dennis McCrackin.
Dennis is the longest surviving heart transplant recipient in the state. After I ignited Dennis’ flame, we shook hands. He looked me squarely in the face and said, “What I’m about to do, I do in honor of all the families who gave the gift of life through organ donation.” Later that night, I wished him another 20, 40, even 60 years of good health. With the same determination as earlier, he said, “Mark, I’ve been given more time than I ever expected. I could die tonight without regret.”
I left the celebration determined to make my life, even if it is as short as my torch run, matter as much as these men’s lives.
Stormy Weather Friends Exist
Arkansas winter visited roadway Street that night. Despite the cold and the rain, Lee, Chuck, Jeff, Todd and their families cheered me northward of my journey. Seeing their faces, I realized this wasn’t the only bad weather we had experienced together. These men have been there when life has pounded the hardest.
And it was my best friend of all, my wife Kaye, who nominated me for this honor. I think her smile may have been brighter than the flame I carried.
I’ve been asked often, “What does the Torch Run mean to you?” The run is an analogy of my life. It’s my job to receive the flame from my parents, carry it faithfully for a short time, then pass it to my children. The flame is wisdom—skill for everyday living.
As I made the final turn of my two-tenths of a mile, I saw my family waiting on the corner. There, standing next to my parents, were my three children. It was the perfect picture to finish my run. My parents have taught me so much about integrity, generosity, and the importance of family. My children are still wide-eyed learners soaking up as much as they can about life. May I be found a faithful bearer of the flame of wisdom.