Olympic torch relay lifts region’s spirits

As the Olympic torch passed through Ponoka and Hobbema Jan. 15, Canadians lined the streets and showed pride in their country.

  • Jan. 19, 2010 11:00 a.m.
Lighting Ponoka’s spirit: Cole Anderson and Ponoka’s Ashley Wilton

Lighting Ponoka’s spirit: Cole Anderson and Ponoka’s Ashley Wilton

By Jasmine Franklin

and George Brown

As the Olympic torch passed through Ponoka and Hobbema Jan. 15, Canadians lined the streets and showed pride in their country.

“It’s about being Canadian,” said Ponoka spectator Marlene Gartner. “(It’s about) supporting Canada and the Olympics.”

First stop – Hobbema

The Olympic torch first made its way through Hobbema where a sea of students and adults lined the streets and snapped pictures.

“I’m here to see history in its making,” said Luci Johnson. “I also saw it in 1988 but it’s an important opportunity for our community and we take pride in this.”

In anticipation, children waved flags and chanted “Go, Canada, Go!”

Then runner Terri Baptiste, 17, came into sight with the flame and the crowd went wild.

“It was so exciting I was overwhelmed. I felt so proud and grateful to be a part of this,” said the teen athlete and rodeo star.

After a celebration featuring the chiefs of the four bands of Hobbema, Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins and the Ermineskin Junior/Senior High School choir singing O Canada in Cree, the eternal flame was passed to torchbearer Carleigh Crane-Bi Plume, 13.

Christie Dominuk, 18, of Ardrossan, was geared up to carry the flame on its course to Ponoka. “I’m stoked! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

After autographs were signed and many photos taken with excited community members, Dominuk’s torch was lit and she was off and running toward Ponoka with friends and family cheering her on.

Ponoka celebrates big

As the torch arrived in Ponoka it was easy to see the enthusiasm and excitement. Some spectators wore red Olympic mittens, some proudly sported Canadian flags and facepaint and others simply cheered on the torchbearers.

At town hall, 16-year-old Ashley Wilton was all smiles as she prepared to carry the torch. In what seemed an instant, the torch came around the bend and she was up for her run.

“It was amazing,” Wilton said. “I don’t even know how to describe it — the energy of the crowd was awesome!”

“Everybody wants to see it,” she said about the torch she carried that was still hot to the touch. “The support was so overwhelming. I can’t even describe it. It was so awesome.”

Wilton ran to Diamond Willow Middle School where she was greeted by many fans, Calkins, and Mayor Larry Henkelman. Wilton stood at the podium with the dignitaries and soaked in her reality.

“I was famous for the day, that’s for sure,” she said laughing. “It was so unreal, everyone wanted my autograph and was chanting my name.” Joining Wilton at the podium was torchbearer Philip Nicholas who carried the torch out of Ponoka and on its way to Red Deer.

“Ponoka was very privileged to be one of the 1,030 communities the torch went through,” said Henkelman. “It was a super turn out by the town — people were lined up on the streets from when the torch entered Ponoka all the way to the school. It was good to see that many people coming out.”

Crowds cheered, and emotions ran high as parents brought their children to witness the event and others tried to touch the Olympic torch.

The torch relay brought back fond memories for Kathy Hodges, of Ponoka, and her family.

Hodges was a torchbearer in the 1988 Calgary Olympics when she was 14 and she still had her torch relay jacket.

“I wore it a lot then we put it away,” said Hodges about the red and white jacket her five-year-old son Kolton wore to Friday’s torch relay.

As the Olympic torch made its way out of Ponoka and the crowd diminished, one thing remained: the pride and dignity that Ponoka expressed for the Olympics, their torchbearers and their country.

Kirchner in Innisfail

Another Ponoka torchbearer, Lori Kirchner, ran her route in Innisfail Jan. 16 and said it was an experience she will never forget.

“It was such an overwhelming gift,” Kirchner said. “If my heart had been glowing anymore it would have burst out of my body.

“I will forever be grateful and treasure it for the rest of my life.”

With files