We All Carry the Torch—And Can Pass It Along

A 1984 Olympics memory reinforces how we can step out, illuminated by faith, and shine a light for others.

Posted in , Jun 17, 2021

Rafer Johnson at 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles

I carried the flame in 1984 in the torch relay as it made its way across the country to the Olympics in Los Angeles.

Wow. What an honor that was. I’m tempted to go into a thousand disclaimers: I wasn’t some budding Olympic athlete. I only carried it through a corner of Connecticut. My dad was working for the Olympics that year, and he thought it was something I would enjoy. 

Rick carries the torchStill. It makes me realize that all sorts of honors can come our way unexpectedly. It’s for us to savor them, give thanks, make something of them. And then pass along that burning flame. 

Let me go back to that May night in 1984. The flame had just begun its circuitous route across America, covering 15,000 kilometers. That first day it inched its way up the coast from New York, each runner carrying it for a kilometer. 

Some of the runners were legendary. People like the grandson of athletic star Jim Thorpe and the granddaughter of gold-medaled Jesse Owen. Others were folk like me, pure amateurs. Supporters of the cause.

Mom and Dad had made a donation to the YMCA back home. I was sent a uniform, and the official aluminum torch. I held it as I stood waiting in the dusk for the flame to arrive.

Part of me wondered if it would even arrive. The plan seemed so ambitious. Would they ever find enough runners to cover that enormous distance? And who would really care? Other people were huddled in the dark on the sidewalk. What would they see?

All at once it happened. A runner appeared out of the gloom, lit my torch, and I was sent on my way. Jogging down the highway. If I had worried about finding my way in the dark, there was no question now. People lined the road, clapping and shouting as I passed. 

Not for me. For the cause that I represented. The free expression of athletic prowess; the celebration of talent, dedication, discipline; the event that would be inaugurated at the end of July.

All too soon it was over. But not really over. I passed the flame on to the next runner, who would pass it along to the next and next until it finally reached gold medalist Rafer Johnson who would carry it into the L.A. Coliseum.

How lucky I was to play a part. Blessed. But like I say, I think we all have these opportunities to carry the torch. Of our faith. Our values. Our beliefs. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus said. We are.

We might feel unsure—like I did that night in 1984. We might wonder if what we have to do or say or show will even matter. We step out, illuminated by our faith. And meet the crowd that was waiting for us all along.

Let your light shine.

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