The 2011 Special Olympics Summer Games, Athens Greece - The final leg of the torch run begins & ends

Monday, Jun 20, 2011 at 00:00


7th June, 2011
Athens Greece.

What a way to start a 30 hour flight to Europe. Getting pulled aside as you check in at the departure gate and told that you’re being upgraded to Business class. A first for me and as a result, I think the long term damage has been done. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to travel cattle class again.

The Special Olympics movement provides great opportunity for athletes around the globe to excel in fields of sporting endeavour. The International event is held midway through the four year Olympic cycle or two years after the Summer and para games. This years event will see over 12,000 athletes from around the world descend on Athens to participate in 27 different sporting disciplines over a two week period. In Australia, each state holds summer and winter sporting events culminating in National games every two years. I have had the privilege of being on the state committee of one of the charities supporting the Special Olympics events and athletes. As part of the lead-up to the games, the Olympic flame, the “flame of hope”, is being lit at Pynx the site in ancient Olympia where all Olympic flames are ignited and despatched to spread the Olympic message around the globe. It is then being run around Greece, Turkey and the Aegean islands culminating in the delivery of the flame to the opening ceremony on the 25th June in Athens. As a volunteer, I have been fortunate enough to be selected to assist in running the torch in this three week relay. Along the way we participate in many welcoming ceremonies which give us the opportunity to showcase the games and the charities that support it. Of course at near fifty and leading a somewhat sedentary lifestyle these days (and carrying quite a few more kilos than I should), there has been a bit of a training regime and lifestyle changes incorporated at Château Mick and Vik.

On several mornings a week, the footfalls and the two of us and a fat staffy have been heard pounding the cold grey asphalt of a Melbourne winters morning. While a few kgs have fallen off, the level of fitness has improved somewhat leaving me positive in being able to complete a gruelling schedule of running and speaking engagements across the Aegean. It should be a lot of fun. So that’s how I come to find myself enjoying the exemplary service of Qantas Business Class on the new A380. What a life. Unfortunately from Singapore to London I had to endure Premium economy...oh well. I did offer to make the supreme sacrifice and take a seat in first if they’d have me lol.

As I type, we flying over the Alps on the last leg of my 30 hour journey heading down to Athens to begin the huge logistical effort that the torch relay is. Each of the ten groups as their own Olympian as part of the group and their role is again to highlight the special Olympic cause and who better to present that viewpoint than an athlete themselves. Stephanie, our champion, hails from Toronto and is a distance runner (damn) so I can see a lot of pleading for her to slow down so I can keep up.

Our first few days will be spent participating in events around Athens and the torch lighting ceremony before our 100 final leg runners split into ten teams of 10 and spread out in three directions to spread the word across the Mediterranean. For me, It’s off to Cyprus on Friday the 10th followed by Crete, Paros, Sifkos, Santorini and Rhodes where we will all meet up again as a group and head back to Athens for the opening of the games. While it sounds like a bleep ty way to spend three weeks...not, it involves a lot of long busy days oh and did I mention the 9-11 miles (not kilometres) we will be expected to run over the course of a day!? Struth my feet, ankles, knees, thighs and back are aching just thinking about it. Wish me luck.

I arrived in Athens on time and after passing through Customs, was met by some of the volunteers who had been gathering the arrivals from Various flights. I arrived to find other Aussies, kiwi’s and a few seppos waiting. After that it was straight onto the coach and into town. The first thing that struck me was the amount of change in Athens. A heap of infrastructure had been built for the Olympics and old roads are placed with major infrastructure projects. It must have cost a bomb. He second thing that hit me was just how depressed much of the inner city is looking. There are definite “no go” zones now wher it is simply too dangerous to walk. From our rooftop bar at the Stanley where we gathered to meet my fellow runners, you could here the nightly protests in the squares and streets nearby. The economic party is over for Greece but there seems a huge reluctance to do the hard yards and pay the bill. Think of the bitching and moaning that happened when Kennett got in to sort out our bankrupted state and then magnify it a hundred fold, that’s how bad things are here.

The evening was spent in registration, issue of team uniforms and other matters of logistics and organisation. A cheerful few hours was spent at the rooftop making introductions and identifying other team members. I’m running with a bunch from Canada, Lithuania, Poland, Greece and of course the USA. A team dinner for the 100 of us and then for me, it was time for the sack. 8:00 p.m. (local) and I retired to a hard bed and lumpy pillow. Naturally I slept like a log!

Update: Currently in Crete having spent three days running through villiages in the mountains and along the coast. We head off to other islands tomorrow. Very full days. Very hot and we're all getting very tired. The cretian hospitality is incredible and they have embrassed the spirit of the games. They very much cherish those with disablities in their communities so the turnout to the events has been incredible. They also like to make you eat and drink at every event making it hard to get started at the next one lol.

20th July, Melbourne.

Being back home now and back at work after more than three weeks on the road, I have time to reflect at being part of the Final Leg experience. If you ever wonder what motivates so many men and women around the world to be part of the LETR and to support the Special Olympics Movement and the wonderful athletes, I hope this small video put together on our last day by the support crew will give you some idea. To say the experience is moving is an understatement. It is profound. Watch and I'm sure you'll see why. For those who know me, you'll see my svelte form gliding the bitumen about 6:20 minutes into the video.

Thanks Dave and the camera guys 'n girls and thanks Team 9 - "Don't panic - we're here to help!"

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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