Heroic women carry the Olympic flame in Newmarket
Published Friday, December 18, 2009 9:36PM EST
Two inspirational women were among the Olympic torchbearers who carried the flame on its route around Toronto and York Region towards the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Early Friday morning in Newmarket, Clare Kowaltschuk suited up in her runner's outfit. "It's been a bit of a journey to try and get here," she told CTV Toronto at her home.
The Aurora teacher's task was to climb the stage and light the Olympic cauldron at the Magna Community Centre in Newmarket. While she wondered, "Why me?," her father described her as a magnet who draws people to her.
Kowaltschuk raised $130,000 during the Weekend to End Breast Cancer -- a feat made more difficult by the fact she has been diagnosed as being terminally ill with the disease.
But nothing was going to stop her from taking part in the torch relay.
"She went straight to her oncologist at Princess Margaret (hospital) and said, 'Look, December the 18th; I don't care what you have to do, I want you to get me to Dec. 18," said her husband Adam.
And so she entered the centre, a big smile on her face and waving at the cheering crowds with her free hand. Her three-year-old son Nathan got to watch her light the cauldron.
Louise Russo also carried the torch in Newmarket.
On April 21, 2004, she was in a California Sandwich outlet picking up an order. Five thugs, armed with an assault rifle, were outside. Shots were fired into the restaurant in an attempt to kill two reputed mob figures inside.
One bullet shattered Russo's spine, leaving her paralyzed.
She rolled her wheelchair on a Newmarket road to the cheers of thousands, including her video-camera-toting husband Sam, who told her, "C'mon Lou, you can do it!"
He told CTV Toronto: "She's very determined and always looking for a challenge. This is obviously another hurdle that she's overcome, and I'm very proud of her."
Russo scouted out her proposed route on Thursday and found the organizers had put her on a steep section. However, they were quick to move her to flatter ground. Even so, she got a little bit of help with a small incline at the end.
"I'm feeling overwhelmed and really humbled by this experience. It's just an incredible, incredible moment," she said after it was over.
Her family watched on and beamed. Schoolchildren surrounded her afterwards.
However, the event was marred when a member of the news media got shoved by security officials, who said the photographer got too close to Russo during her part of the relay. That photographer was taken to hospital for treatment of a concussion.
The torch eventually ended up in Brampton early Friday evening for a major rally.
The second part of Toronto's torch run began at around 6 a.m. at as it headed north on University Avenue towards Queen's Park, where a native sunrise ceremony was held. Community fundraiser Richard Graves was the day's first torchbearer.
On Day 50 of the torch run, the flame then made its way out of Toronto and then towards:
- Newmarket and Aurora
During Thursday's run, Olympic protesters forced the torch procession to alter its planned route in the downtown core, causing a one-hour delay to its final stop in front of city hall.
Protesters claimed the Olympics are happening on land stolen from First Nations peoples, although the B.C. First Nations have been heavily involved with the Games.
Two people were arrested during the protest on Thursday. Police say a 24-year-old protester was charged with assaulting an officer after he allegedly knocked him off his bike. A second protester was placed under arrest after he allegedly tried to help the first suspect. The second suspect, who is 23 years old, was charged with obstructing a police officer.
Both suspects have been released from custody, police from 52 Division confirmed Friday morning. The officer that was knocked off his bike was not seriously injured.
With reports from CTV Toronto's Galit Solomon and Alicia Markson