Still carrying a torch for the Olympics

Sally Fegley talks about carrying the Olympic torch the during the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid.
Kristopher Radder — Brattleboro Reformer
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Kristopher Radder — Brattleboro Reformer
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BRATTLEBORO — Have you ever held a genuine Olympic torch?

Sally Fegley, a realtor at the Masiello Group, has. Fegley was one of 52 runners in the 1980 Olympic torch relay.

Her Olympic torch stands on the mantle in the Masiello Group's Main Street Office. People are invited to drop by and take pictures with it.

At 32, Fegley responded to an ad to become the New Jersey representative for the Olympic Torch Relay. Today, Fegley is nearly 70 and still fits into the golden tracksuit she ran in almost 40 years ago.

"I've always loved the Olympics," Fegley said. "It's an extremely uplifting, positive occasion."

Fegley admires the concept of people coming together to appreciate the spectacular.

"It's wonderful athletes doing their best and getting along with people from different countries. The whole thing is very beautiful and colorful," she said.

"And I think, especially in this day and age, when the world is so fraught with problems and there is all this bad news and modern warfare, you have this occasion where, at least for a brief period of time, you can escape to a better place."

Fegley had to send in an essay to become a torch bearer. She was chosen along with five others out of 6,000 contestants as a relay finalist. The next step was for the five finalists to prove they were decent runners, but the judge didn't have an odometer.

"I had this whole system worked out where I'd count steps for myself when I ran," Fegley said. She would count 2,000 steps and then use her fingers to mark how many miles she ran. So she ran beside the judge to tell him how many miles the group had gone.

The 1980 Olympics was different in a lot of ways from previous Olympics, Fegley said. It was the Olympics where Miracle on Ice occurred, a historic hockey game between the United States and Soviet teams where the U.S. won. It was also where the U.S. speed skater Eric Heiden won five gold medals. Fegley felt like there was more commercialization for the Lake Placid Olympics than past games, and that the ceremonies were more spectacular, but, she said, the torch relay really marked the 1980 Olympics as different.

People were chosen from every state, the District of Columbia and Lake Placid. There was an equal amount of men and women and Fegley thought there was a fair amount of diversity among the torchbearers. But what was most remarkable to Fegley was that the runners weren't exceptional.

"None of the torchbearers was a famous athlete," she said. "We were just everyday people."

Fegley was always a self-described, "book worm." She said she was never particularly athletic. At 23, Fegley wanted to lose weight. "I'm a very practical person," she said. Running was the easiest way to accomplish her goal and it was also the most affordable. By the time she was 32 she was a decent runner. To compete to be a torchbearer, Fegley had to be able to run 10 miles in one go. That's the most she'd ever run, she admitted, but she did it.

Fegley doesn't remember the specifics of her essay, but she remembered talking about her mother.

"I remember saying that, if I was selected, I would be doing it in honor of my mother who died at a very young age," she said.

The essay also asked, "What does running mean to you?"

Fegley, who lived in Hoboken, N.J. at the time, did her running at night.

"I would run along the Hudson River," she said. She could see the Manhattan skyline from where she ran, and the sun would reflect off the skyline. "Everything would reflect gold," she said. "It was really beautiful."

She found tranquility in her solitude. "Running is an intimate time," she said. "It's just an intimate time to reflect and I go into a zen state."

The relay was nearly 1,000 miles and lasted for 10 days. It started in Langley, Va. and went all the way up to Lake Placid. It was meant to retrace the American Revolution Bicentennial Trail.

Fegley described it as being like a parade wherever she went. Each town she stopped in people cheered. All the relayers got to make speeches and were featured in local newspapers.

In New York City, Fegley got to make a speech at city hall.

In Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania runner ran up the steps of the State House just like Rocky, from the movie.

"I was so in awe," Fegley said.

At the Delaware River, Fegley herself got to hold the torch as she rode in a boat modeled after the one George Washington rode in. The river was icy, she remembered, and there was a lot of wind.

"I felt like we were getting swept out to sea," she said.

The Olympics itself was also remarkable. Fegley got to take a month paid vacation to go and to run in the relay. During the day she got to do whatever she wanted and every night there was an award ceremony. Fegley and the other relayers would march out on to Lake Placid holding their torches.

"It was beautiful," Fegley said.

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.


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