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Olympic torch passes through Hagerstown

December 27, 2001

Olympic torch passes through Hagerstown



By DAN KULIN
dank@herald-mail.com


Carrying the Olympic flame into the heart of his hometown was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for Terry Gearhart, as was watching him for the hundreds of people who crowded Hagerstown's Public Square Thursday afternoon.

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"My mother told me it was a historical event and I would never see it again," said Kristin Creek, 31, of Hagerstown.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Who knows when it'll be back in the U.S. again," said Carolyn Yoder, 38, of Martinsburg, W.Va., which is where the flame was headed after its stop in Hagerstown.

Gearhart, a paid and volunteer firefighter and paramedic, said carrying the torch ranked among the most exciting things he has done.

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"It's hard to describe. It's a-once-in-a-lifetime excitement," he said. "It's an experience I'll never forget."

Gearhart, 50, of Hagerstown, said being chosen to carry the torch was "the payoff that you never expect" for years of volunteer service.

Gearhart said he was touched by the support from the hundreds of spectators, who began lining up around Public Square more than an hour before the torch arrived.

The festive atmosphere was dampened at one point when a woman was struck by a minivan as she tried to cross Franklin Street at Potomac Street at about 3:20 p.m.

A Community Rescue Service ambulance was parked a few yards away, and the woman was quickly taken away. The 60-year-old Hagerstown woman was listed in fair condition at Washington County Hospital Thursday evening, a nursing supervisor said.

In the square, the mood was festive as spectators braved a biting wind and temperatures in the 40s as they waited for the torch, which was about 30 minutes late.

The ceremony in the square included songs by Miss Maryland Kelly Glorioso, and performances by bands from Williamsport and South Hagerstown high schools.

Many people waved flags, snapped photos and had their video recorders rolling as Gearhart ran into the square and placed his torch in a waist-high holder. The flame rested there for about 20 minutes before it headed off for Martinsburg.

"It's wonderful it's coming through my hometown," said Kirk Graham, 45, of Hagerstown, who was videotaping the event.

The flame left Atlanta, the U.S. city that last hosted the Olympics, on Dec. 4. It will arrive on Feb. 8 in Salt Lake City, in time for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

About 11,500 people will carry the Olympic torch on its 65-day, 13,500-mile trip across America.

The flame was scheduled to leave Martinsburg City Hall at 6:45 a.m. today, and travel to Leesburg, Va.

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