The Gift Marker

I had been given a gift a year and a half ago. I knew at the time it was a gift, but did not begin to comprehend just how much of a gift those memories and reflections continue to be. These are my first few days back from a two week break from anything News or News Gathering. And boy, wouldn’t you know, the soul needed that break.

Vancouver Island was the place that I would go to recharge the mental batteries and free the spirit. The drive to my final destination of rest and relaxation would spawn images and memories of this wonderful gift.

It first hit me as I am listening to some 80’s hair band over the satellite radio, not thinking of anything in particular, when all of a sudden the place around me looks strangely familiar. I am on route 4, passing  through a very small village called Hilliers. It was at this rather rural place, which I had never heard of before, where the true meaning and spirit of what this “gift” was, beginning to take shape. And just like that I am transported back in time. Thoughts of me in the back of a modified Camper known as “Media One”, my lens pointing out the back, toward a happy young man, his arm out stretched, holding the Olympic Torch as it passed through this small, yet excited, little community of Hilliers BC. It made me smile and think of just how lucky I was to be there at that moment in time, to bare witness to the beginnings of a Nation about to become a glow in the celebratory light of the Olympic Flame.

One of only Two Torch Bearers in the Town of Hilliers
Murman in the back of Media One as we enter Port Alberni 
That event was the beginning of Day 3 of the Vancouver Olympic Torch Relay. An assignment that will be one of my favorites of my long career. 
As I continued to drive toward Port Alberni, memories flooded my head of that day almost a year and a half ago. Little stops here and there, the Relay Team trying to maintain a strict time line so as to be at the Port Alberni Community Celebration by Noon. It would be at Alberni, where I would jump off of Media One and meet up with Producer Chad Varhogg, who had been driving my wheels, to continue onto Tofino where our SAT Truck and the rest of our production crew would be. From there we would broadcast our 6 PM cast and because of time conflicts and demands of both the Network and our Local Desks we would be challenged to get it all shot, edited and fed before the show began. 
Added difficulty to us was there was only one road to Tofino, so getting out infront of the “Torch Convoy” was a must. Very quick stops for a splash of gas and a petro-sandwich and we were off.
I smiled as I passed that gas station a week ago, remembering just how we scarfed down those rather bland sandwiches and how fast we sped out of the parking lot.
Continuing on that narrow winding road on that day, the weather began to sour. The sun which was so warm and inviting in Hilliers was now gone. Rain was now in the cards. Funny, I had been to Tofino on assignment before and I had yet to experience the place with any sunshine.
Chad and I discussed what had been shot and “in the can” and what needed to be shot. There were two things that could not be missed. Well I suppose they could be, but that would likely shorten or potentially  end ones Olympic Career. Failure would not be an option on this. The first “Mission Impossible” was to shoot a Torch Bearer at Long Beach surfing the Flame in from the Pacific Ocean. Chad and another Camera Op would draw that one. The problem was to then get those pictures back to Tofino and to the SAT Truck before the “Convoy” clogged the only road into town. 
In the end, Chad and his Camera guy got the shot, but just outside of town, Chad himself ran the disk past the roadblock and to the truck. His Olympic career was safe.
CTV Producer Chad Varhogg after his Run to the Truck
                                     
I had drawn more of a local assignment, I was to document and shoot CTV Anchor Keri Adams as she ran the Flame in Tofino proper. The trouble was, this was not supposed to happen until just before 6. 
Be that as it may, it was a great privilege to be the Photog to shoot my friend Keri and her moment with lighted Torch. 
As the time drew near Keri became more excited, she had her husband Jay and her two daughters, one around 2 and the youngest still an infant. She realized that she was about to carry the Torch not for her, but for her family. It was truly an emotional moment. 
Each of the Torch Bearers would be assembled prior to their big moment, briefed by Relay Operations people, loaded up onto a bus and then dropped off at their respective start points or hand off points. These were marked by an Orange disc with the number of the Bearer, stuck to a sign or pole. Those of us on the Torch Relay Assignment had become very familiar with these markers. Keri’s marker was no different. After she was loaded up, I headed directly to her marker to wait. 
Tofino was no different than most in that the whole town came out to line the streets to watch as The Torch Runners would pass by. Plenty of flashes from cameras of every make and model. People would cheer. It was a very festive and happy time for a place when the Olympic Relay came to town.
It was now getting dark on that November Sunday, Jay and the children had found an awning to keep out of the drizzle that had become a bit more uncomfortable. Then all at once the flashing lights of a Police escort, and the tell tail lights of the Torch Bearer Bus. It stops at the marker which happens to be affixed to the first Stop Sign as you enter Tofino. 
Out pops Keri, to the cheers of all around. The only thing brighter that the headlights was her smile. It wouldn’t be long. Folks posed with her and the Torch as she waited with her “Key Master”. (These were guys on bikes that had the key to turn on and off the gas cylinders in the Torch)
Excitement grew and as we looked down the road the orange glow of a runner making her way to Keri’s location. It was the moment she had been waiting for. Jay and the children looking on with pride.
All at once the “Flame Kiss” and Keri’s Torch was alight. Her smile as bright as could be. She took a moment and let it all sink in. Her eyes catching the pride on Jay’s face, then upward basking in the Olympic Flame’s glow, she began her 150 meters of the longest torch relay in Olympic history. It was magic to be pointing my lens in her direction. 
Olympic Torch Bearer #153 Keri Adams
Keri as she carries the Olympic Torch in Tofino, BC
As fast as it began, it was over and the emotion was not lost on her as her Torch went out at the end of her segment. She looked at me and game me a hug, tears now rolling down her eyes. Even ol’ Murman was a bit misty eyed. As she hugged me, I felt a burn on one side of my face. Damn Keri, that Torch is still hot. It made for a funny story for when we would get back to the office. I had been burnt by an Olympic Torch, how many others can say that.
Fast forward to last week. I am driving into Tofino, the sun is shining ( for the first time as I visit) and lo and behold, on the first Stop Sign going into town is a faded Torch Relay Marker, that bears the number 153, Keri’s Olympic Torch Relay marker still there, the memories flooded back.
It was a gift indeed.
It’s still there Marker #153