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Ventura County

Olympic Dream for 11 in County

Winter Games: A once-promising diver and a paraplegic are among locals chosen as torchbearers.

October 22, 2001|CARRI KARUHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Becky Burnham had dreamed of competing in the Olympics.

As a teen, she excelled in springboard diving, winning state championships in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

But her Olympic goals died when she turned 18. Her family moved to Columbus, Ohio, and she was unable to find a diving coach. As an adult, Burnham went on to teach the blind, raise money for AIDS research and become a high school tennis coach in Arizona, taking her first team to state finals.

Still, she never forgot her Olympic dream. Now, after nearly 40 years, it seems Burnham, who lives in Ventura, will finally near her goal.

She is among 11 Ventura County residents named torchbearers for the XIX Olympic Winter Games, which begin Feb. 8 in Salt Lake City. They were selected from 210,000 nominees nationwide as examples of those who inspire and exemplify the Olympic spirit.

Flame to Travel 13,500 Miles

On Jan. 16, Burnham and the others will run, walk or otherwise move the Olympic flame one-fifth of a mile through Ventura County before passing it to the next torchbearer. It's part of a 65-day relay that begins Dec. 4 in Atlanta. In all, 11,500 torchbearers will pass the flame 13,500 miles, across 46 states, to its destination in Salt Lake City.

"I feel like it's a dream come true," said the 54-year-old Burnham, who owns a toy store in Ventura. "Here I m, getting to be part of the team. I'm really choked up about it."

About 7,200 of the torchbearers were nominated during a nationwide campaign and picked randomly or by regional selection committees.

The other 4,300 include sponsors, providers, Olympians and other athletes involved with the upcoming Olympic Games. In addition, organizers are expected to name 100 torchbearers to represent victims, families and others directly affected by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"There is a sense that the Games have a new symbolism as it relates to affirmation of humanity and civilization," said Caroline Shaw, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. "We believe the Olympic Games can inspire individuals, that there are Olympians within each of us."

Left Paralyzed by Car Accident

James Schick is among those selected to carry the torch. He was an avid outdoorsman who loved to hike and kayak. Then, at 19, he was in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. But Schick went on to get his medical degree at Georgetown University and now works as a neonatologist at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard. Schick, now 51 and a resident of Oak View, has two children, ages 17 and 20.

His brother, Tom, nominated him.

"He is an inspirational guy," said Tom Schick of Rockville, Md. "If he wants to do something, there is a way he's going to figure out how to do it."

At least one torchbearer was chosen because of inspiring letters about her.

Nadine Parsons of Fort Worth, Texas, nominated her mother, Sharon Troll, a Ventura resident who volunteered for the Ventura Police Department's Westside Storefront before going to work for the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura. Troll also helped secure a federal anti-gang grant that went to various local organizations, including schools and the Ventura Police Department.

During the relay in Ventura County, Parsons will carry the torch before passing it to her mother. Troll said she gets goose-bumps and teary-eyed whenever she thinks about it.

"My child. To know she nominated me, that she was also selected to pass that off to me," said Troll, 59. "I'm just awe-struck by the whole thing."

FYI

The Ventura County torchbearers: Becky Burnham, Alexander Chavez, Richard Madrid and Sharon Troll of Ventura; Roman Castro of Fillmore; Denise Hamilton of Oxnard; Jim McCoy of Santa Paula; Michael McDermott of Moorpark; Matthew Nidetz of Camarillo; Jody Peter of Ojai and James Schick of Oak View. Also running in the county is Nadine Parsons, who grew up in Thousand Oaks.

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