Olympic torch winds way through capital city

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- With snowplows clearing the way, about 50 Alaskans ran, walked, wheeled and paddled the Olympic flame through the capital city Thursday -- the first time the torch has come to Alaska.

Torchbearers, many nominated because of their ability to inspire others, came from parts of the state ranging from North Pole to Unalaska to Petersburg.

''Each runner today has had an important message,'' said Gov. Tony Knowles.

Deana Johnson, 52, a flight attendant who also teaches horseback riding, was one of them. Johnson has survived a double heart bypass operation and cancer.

''I am just very grateful to be up and walking and running,'' Johnson said. ''The whole thing is just symbolic of getting on with life and doing the best you can with what you have.''

She dedicated her run to her fellow flight attendants, who she said suffered a tough year with the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks on America.

''It's the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me,'' Johnson said. She was the eighth runner on the 10-mile trek. ''Norman Vaughan handed me the flame.''

Col. Norman Vaughan, 96, of Anchorage is a former Iditarod musher who competed in the 1932 Olympics as a sled dog racer. He completed his segment of the relay in a wheelchair.

Ethel Lund, a 71-year-old Tlingit Indian, held the flame high in a canoe as a team of rowers swept it over about a half mile of Gastineau Channel.

The Yun Shu Ka dancers dressed in Tlingit regalia performed traditional send-off and greeting songs for the canoe.

''It was great. It was so strengthening, empowering, just to see our Alaska people so supportive and honoring the Olympic torch,'' said Lund, who helped found the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.

''I'll just never forget it,'' Lund said.

''It was appropriate that it was on a canoe, too,'' Lund said, ''since the water is just our way of life here. It's how we move from island to island, our main food source comes from the water. It's very much a part of our life.''

The torch relay is a 65-day, 13,500-mile journey through 46 of the 50 states. The relay started in Atlanta on Dec. 4 and will reach Salt Lake City on Feb. 8 for opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.

Most segments of the Alaska run were about two-tenths of a mile, said Tish Griffin, co-chairwoman of the Olympic Torch Relay for Alaska.

Schoolchildren left classes and adults left work to watch the event. Spectators waved plastic flags with the stars and stripes on one side and a Chevrolet logo on the other.

''I wanted to see the torch,'' said fourth-grader Mary Gianotti, who had an American flag sticking out of her ponytail. ''It's never been to Juneau before, so I thought that was really cool.''

Her classmate, Jenna Hyde, wore a flag bandanna and beads with the letters U.S.A. strung through a braid in her hair.

Suzy Herbison brought her Bernese mountain dog, Kurly, decked out in an American flag visor, to witness the event.

Because of concern that bad weather might prevent the torch from reaching Juneau on time, four miners' lanterns with official Olympics fire from Greece were flown up in two separate planes.

Griffin said both planes landed successfully.

A light snow fell through part of the race, but torchbearer Marian Koelsch of Juneau said she didn't even notice.

''It's really nice out,'' Koelsch said. ''It's beautiful. It's Juneau.''

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