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They Carried the Olympic Torch — Now We Say Goodbye

Getty Images / AFP / ARIS MESSINIS

The remarkable true life stories of Olympic torch bearers

The Olympic flame as a symbol of the Games can be traced to ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. In the modern Olympic era, the flame has taken on new importance. The flame still burns prominently throughout each Olympiad, just as it did for the ancient Greeks. Now, in addition, before the start of each Olympic Games, thousands of volunteers help to carry the torch from Greece – birthplace of the Olympics – to the host city. Over the decades, countless Olympic veterans and others noted for their service to community and country have participated in the torch relay. Today we remember a few Olympic torch bearers who have died in recent months.

Community hero Simon Goss (1941 - 2017)

A resident of Southern California, Goss officiated sports at all levels for over 40 years and "was well-known and respected by coaches and players." In 1996 the avid runner was chosen to carry the Olympic torch as a “community hero” in the Los Angeles leg of the Summer Games relay. Read more

Organ donor Kathy Ann Gibney (1949 - 2017)

In 2000, Gibney did something amazing: she donated a kidney to her boss. Two years later, in recognition of her extraordinary act of kindness, she carried the Olympic torch for the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. Read more

Senior Olympian Carl Grubbs (1934 - 2017)

At age 50, Grubbs decided to get in shape. He began walking then jogging, working his way up to 5K and 10K races and, eventually, marathons. In retirement he participated in the Senior Olympics winning gold, silver, and bronze medals and qualifying to compete in the state and national competitions. "A special treat came when Carl could be part of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic torch relay" in California. He carried the torch that "ended up in the hands of Mohammad Ali in Atlanta, giving Carl a sense of accomplishment in athletics and civil rights."  Read more

Former Marine Jeanne Merk (1934 - 2017)

An "avid runner with a wall of ribbons," Merk carried the Olympic torch for the 2002 Utah Olympic Torch Relay. "She loved being a Marine and rarely missed a Marine Corps Ball." Read more

Korean War veteran and civic leader Paul R. Simons (1929 - 2017)

"His love of country is also recognized in his selection from 210,000 nominees to carry the 2002 Winter Olympic Torch. After carrying the torch, Paul was asked to speak to over 14,000 school children at 39 different schools in California and Arizona. He spoke about Patriotism, Volunteerism, Goal Setting, and the importance and meaning of the flag of the greatest country in the world." Read more

Advocate for children and the homeless Audrey Langslet (1928 - 2018)

For 40 years, Langslet served the preschool-aged community of Long Beach as a teacher and later as a leader of child advocacy organizations. She also chaired the city's task force on the homeless and served on the board of the Mental Health Association of Los Angeles County. In 1984 the avid runner had the chance to carry the Olympic torch before the Los Angeles games. "Audrey lived life to its fullest, never declining a challenge or an adventure, and believed each day was a gift." Read more

Community leader Gayle Countryman Jones (1941 - 2017)

"In 1996 Gayle received her most memorable honor when asked to run the Olympic torch for her work on behalf of children, schools and the community." Read more

People with disabilities advocate Ruby Morton (1927 - 2017)

Being blinded in a gun accident at 22 didn't slow down Ruby Morton. In addition to raising eight children, she helped establish a home for mentally challenged adults, campaigned for services for the blind, and worked for Goodwill where she was named "Achiever of the Year" and "Ambassador of the Year." And in 2000, "she was selected as one of the Olympic Torch bearers as it traveled through Mississippi." Read more

Military leader and Vietnam veteran William Stryker (1940 - 2017)

A West Point graduate, LTC Stryker served as an Airborne Army Ranger during the Vietnam War. "Upon retirement from active duty in 1986, LTC Stryker began a career with General Motors," where he "was instrumental in the GM's Mobility Program to make more vehicles handicapped accessible." LTC Stryker was represented GM as a 2002 Olympic Torch bearer. Read more

Ultrarunner Dave Faherty (1945 - 2017)

A lifelong runner, Faherty completed 160 marathons, including 26 ultra-marathons (races greater than 26.2 miles). He ran the New York City Marathon an incredible 28 times (including the first), as well as the prestigious Boston Marathon 24 times. But one of his proudest experiences was to carry the Olympic Torch through three states in 1984. Read more

Nursing director Patricia Jo Zawierucha (1941 - 2017)

Zawierucha, who carried the Olympic torch in 1996, generously gave "her time and talents to her community and her family," and "never missed an opportunity to inspire or be there for her daughters and grandchildren." Read more

Proud papa Brad Hermann (1955 - 2017)

"A very proud and exciting time for Brad was when he was honored to carry the Olympic Torch for the 2002 Olympic Games in December of 2001 in Miami, Florida." But he was most proud of his son, Zach. Read more

"Cool woman" Margaret Melanson (1937 - 2017)

A "celebrated writer, performing artist, storyteller," Peggy Melanson received a "Cool Woman of America" award from AMC in 2000. Two years later she was selected to represent Somerville, Massachusetts in the Olympic torch relay. Read more

Community leader, attorney, veteran Karl Straus (1921 - 2017)

As a teenager, Straus fled Nazi Germany. He later settled in Asheville, North Carolina, where he became a "pillar of the community," opening a law firm and starting a legal aid foundation. "He gave his heart to fighting intolerance, prejudice, and discrimination," and volunteered with many organizations in the community. An avid runner into his 70s, Straus "had the privilege of carrying the Olympic torch in the 1984 Summer Olympics Torch Relay."  Read more

Civic leader Bulldawg Bob Rushton (1943 - 2018)

Born "by the grace of God" to two University of Georgia graduates, Rushton "proudly carried the Olympic torch in Macon" and in Atlanta, where served as "Chair of the volunteers for the Opening Ceremony." Read more

Baseball fan Matthew Kreger (1969 - 2017)

A beloved uncle and friend to many, Kreger "could light up a room with his bright smile and quirky sense of humor." He was "proud to be selected to carry the Olympic torch in the cross-country relay in 1996." Read more

Bank manager and breast cancer survivor Sandra Johnson Frank (1939 - 2017)

In 1996 she was honored "to carry the Olympic Torch for the XXVI Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, GA, USA." Read more