Alumnus and staff member Steffen Reinhart is one of the many members of the University of Toronto community carrying the torch for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games (photo by Stephanie Lazarevski-Reinhart)

Torchbearers from U of T light the path to the Pan Am Games

Students, staff, faculty and alumni are among those carrying the Pan Am flame

A journey of 20,000 km began when the University of Toronto’s Rosie MacLennan  took a single step, Pan Am torch in hand. 

MacLennan, a gold medalist at the 2012 Olympics, was the first official bearer of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games torch relay but dozens of U of T students, faculty, alumni and staff have followed her example.

For Steffen Reinhart, a staff member at the Nona MacDonald Visitors Centre, “it was probably the quickest and longest 200 metres” he’d ever run.

“There was a convoy of vehicles filled with dignitaries, media taking pictures, six police officers surrounding whoever had the flame, people were on the sidewalk cheering, passing cars were honking,” says Reinhart. “You are the only person in the world with the Pan Am flame, and you feel a responsibility to protect the flame.”   

By the time the torch reaches the opening ceremonies in Toronto on July 10, 3,000 torchbearers will have had the opportunity to carry and protect the Pan Am flame as part of the 41-day nationwide relay. The flame itself is a symbol of the spirit and history of the Pan Am games, says alumna Mary Macdonald who played in the Games for the Canadian Basketball team in 1959, 1963 and 1967.

“For me, a lighted torch is a reminder of everything that has gone on, the people involved in the games, the people who worked at putting it together, and Canada.”

For Bruce Kidd, former Olympian and University of Toronto Scarborough vice-president and principal, carrying the torch at UTSC this weekend marks both the beginning of the games and the culmination of years of work preparing for the university to help host the Games. 

“It punctuates, emphasizes, affirms the important role that UTSC will play in the Pan Am and the Para-Pan American Games,” says Kidd.“It’s very moving for me. I was part of the group involved in the planning of the events so to be a torchbearer as the torch makes its way to the opening is quite exciting. The Games have been a tremendous stimulus. They’ve broadened our horizons on the world, particularly our relationship to the other communities in the Americas.

“Now that we stand a weekend away, I am very excited. I feel that we’ve brought it all together. Big projects like this can’t always be pulled off, but I think that we’ve done it.”

Jennifer Kolz, a PhD student at U of T who returned to her hometown of North Bay to carry the torch, says “to have been a small part of this moment in Canada’s collective history was an honour and a very powerful experience that little in life can top. In a world where divisiveness exists, the Pan Am Torch Relay has drawn all of us into community and united us in a very unique and profound way.”

Alumnus Chris Chen says that facilities constructed for the Games such as the UTSC pool “will leave behind a legacy for the communities of the city, and that there will be many community members that can take advantage of the facilities.” 

Chen calls his opportunity to be a torchbearer “the icing on the cake”  and says he’s looking forward to also being a volunteer for the Games.

Student Leila Keshavjee says she’s also looking forward to joining the more than 23,000 volunteers who are giving their time to the games. Keshavjee says she finds as much importance in events like the torch relay that are leading up to Pan Am as the games themselves. 

“Celebrating our diversity is what’s important. So we may not all be athletes, but we can still come together and celebrate as a community.” 

Community was the most important part of carrying the torch for Levi Blazer, a research associate at the Structural Genomics Consortium, who recently moved to Toronto. “It was one of the first times since moving here over a year ago that I felt like I was part of the community,” he says.

Fellow torch bearer Patrick O’Hanlon is the campaign chair for the Goldring Centre and father of Kelly O’Hanlon, a recent graduate of U of T and a former captain of the women’s varsity hockey team.

“I’m honoured to be involved in such a prestigious event that the whole country gets to enjoy,” says O'Hanlon (pictured below).

photo of Patrick O'Hanlon running with torch in rain

Anna Maria Russo, internship coordinator for the Master of Environmental Science and Arts & Science Co-op at UTSC, plans to tell her future child about her experience carrying the torch. The pregnant Russo will carry the torch July 6th and says she’s looking forward to telling her baby “we did it together”.

Emily Di Sante, research officer for the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, carried the torch on June 21. The most memorable part of her experience? Witnessing a presentation at  McMaster Children’s Hospital where a former patient of the hospital lit the torch. 

Samantha Freeman Atwood, incoming associate registrar at St. Michael’s College, is an avid sports enthusiast and Muay-Thai fighter. Freeman-Atwood is carrying the torch on July 8 and says she is most looking forward to “the proud sensation of representing my city, my country, and my community” to the world. 

“To me, this opportunity is about showcasing the city and the athletes and the best of everything that we have to offer so it’s bigger than just me. I’m so proud to be able to be a part of it so I hope I don’t drop it! I’ve been practicing with my broom at home!”

Other Canadians sharing the honours of carrying the torch include Olympic silver-medalist Elvis Stojko, Astronaut Chris Hadfield, Pan Am Games Poet Laureate Mustafa Ahmed, Olympic gold-medalist and triathlete Simon Whitfield, legendary hockey dad Walter Gretzky, three-time world champion coxswain and Olympic gold-medalist Brian Price, Canadian Idol winner Eva Avila, and Olympic pole vaulter Dana Ellis.

On Day 36 of the torch relay, the Pan Am flame will travel from Withrow Park, through the streets of Toronto to Variety Village and the Toronto Zoo before heading to the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre at UTSC in the afternoon and later to Music Africa for an evening celebration at the annual music festival Afrofest.

Celebrations at UTSC begin at noon and continue until 4 pm. Cat Criger, U of T’s Indigenous Elder in Residence, will bless and recognize the grounds. Festivities feature an obstacle course and relay with UTSC’s MoveU Crew, the creation of a collaborative community mural, mini-clinics for those who want to learn to play sports of the Americas, music and dance performances. There will also be children’s crafts including “torch” building and face painting, four on four soccer matches and other games offered by UTSC’s and East Scarborough Storefront’s Playing for Keeps Neighbourhood Hubs, buskers and food vendors.

The torch relay will also pass through U of T's downtown campus on the afternoon of July 9. And the Parapan American Games will also have a torch relay. Two flames – one lit in Ottawa and another in Niagara Falls – will begin their journey August 3, travelling along the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail for five days before uniting in Toronto.

Krisha Ravikantharaja is a student at the University of Toronto.

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