Chelseaite’s once-in-a-lifetime run with Olympic flame a short burst

Wayne Russell takes the Olympic flame from the previous torchbearer

Wayne Russell takes the Olympic flame from the previous torchbearer

Standing in the four-foot high snow banks on St. Rene Boulevard in Gatineau Dec. 11, Chelsea Mayor Caryl Green and a handful of other Chelsea residents wait for Wayne Russell to run by them with the Olympic Torch in his hands.

The moment can’t come soon enough.

Dressed in layers upon layers of winter clothing, the group huddles close to keep warm from the harsh wind, waving Olympic flags in their mittened hands.

“This is so exciting,” says Green through her winter scarf.

Looking down the street, the group anxiously awaits the historic event. Russell’s wife, Mary-Lynn Campbell has high hopes for her husband’s performance.

“He has been practicing every night on the treadmill,” she says laughing.

Finally, the moment arrives. A bus carrying torchbearers pulls up and drops Russell off in front of his own fan club. A loud roar of excitement is expelled from the group, as they scream and cheer at the sight of him. Russell, standing with an unlit torch, waits for his experience of a lifetime.

When asked how he feels, the 64-year-old Chelsea Foundation President grabs this reporter and embraces him in his arms.

“This is amazing, thanks for coming!”

Then in the distance, the coveted Olympic flame comes into sight. A large convoy of fire trucks, police cars and parade-style floats drive past, adding more Olympic spirit to the already charged atmosphere.

Then the handoff. Russell, who is the Canadian Olympic Committee Treasurer, walks out to the middle of the road, holds out his torch in the air to exchange the flame from the previous torch runner.

His time has come. As soon as his torch is ignited, a smile forms on Russell’s face and he takes off running. The Chelsea crowd, some of them jumping in the air, begins to chant his name.

Three hundred metres to go. You can just barely hear Russell’s shoes crunch on the frozen pavement, as he jogs past screaming spectators who are jammed on the city sidewalks. His breathing is intense and rhythmic, as it’s exhausted through a toothy grin that stretches ear-to-ear.

He’s nearly sprinting now with the torch raised high in the air, the flame lighting an aura around his body with a backdrop of early evening darkness . Running alongside him, I try my best to keep up, snapping photos along the way.

Three hundred metres feels more like three feet when it comes to a “moment of a lifetime”. Suddenly, and seemingly without warning, another torchbearer takes the flame from Russell to begin his own run and, in a flash, Russell’s moment has passed. He barely has enough time to pose for photos, as another bus swoops in to pick him up in minutes. The torch continues its flicker in the distance, heading towards Ottawa on its cross-Canada journey to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics.

Sitting in his home the next day, the Chelsea resident reflects on one of the most exciting experiences of his life.

“What happens when you carry the torch is that you feel like you are a part of the Olympics instead of just watching,” he said.

“It was incredible.”

The former Hockey Canada Chairman still has the torch he ran with, as he took up the offer to purchase it for $400. He will also be heading to Vancouver in February to catch some of the Olympic Games with his wife, where he hopes he will be able to see the Gold medal hockey game.