Carrying the Olympic flame for children everywhere

olympictorch_palfreyYesterday, Children’s very own Judith Palfrey, MD, FAAP, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), got the opportunity to carry the Olympic torch through Canada. Below, she reflects on the once-in-a-lifetime experience:

On January 19, I had the enormous honor to accept the Olympic flame from a young man named Chris, from Manitoba, Canada, and then to pass it on in an unbroken chain to Debbie Fisher, a speed skating coach from Calgary.

Since mid-November when the flame arrived in Vancouver from Greece, each day it has been shepherded lovingly from one town to another, all over Canada. Torchbearers have carried it on horseback, in sailboats, on wheelchairs, on dogsleds and even by air when it went up to the Arctic Circle.

As my friend Susan Foley so aptly put it, the Olympics embodies “hope, aspiration and achievement.” The torch itself is the symbol of global togetherness, cooperation and communities working together.

I was chosen to carry the torch as one of 20 Americans selected by the Coca Cola Company to highlight community action and living positively. Among the group were two marvelous Olympians, Shawn Johnson and Steven Lopez, and 11 amazing teenagers whose community service projects touch the lives of thousands of people. Five of us represented American health organizations including the American Dietetic Association, the American Academy of Family Practice, the US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the American Association of Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Two of the runners were Coca Cola employees who have volunteered extensively in their home community of Atlanta. The bios and stories of the group can be found here. The opportunity to be with this group of people for two days was inspiration enough. Running with them and the wonderful Canadians we met was a true gift.

Judy portrait of a torchbearerPeople have asked ‘what was the experience like?’ To be honest, it was ‘like’ no other experience I have ever had nor probably will have. There was an element of pure joy….being sent off to the run by the Calgary Elementary School Band playing O Canada…running past lines of school children cheering me on shouting my name…sharing the flame with motorists stopped along side the road….seeing my family smiling and proud. And then there was a feeling of awe.  I kept looking at the flame (so did all the other torchbearers). The flame represents the human spirit, the ability to overcome, the importance of caring. To hold that flame for my country, for all countries, for children was an experience I will always treasure.

In the planning phases for the torch run, at the AAP, we had decided to use the visibility of the event to raise awareness about the needs of children around the world. The AAP has an international mission that focuses on disaster response, neonatal resuscitation and health promotion. The global community has all come together in the wake of the Haiti disaster and through the AAP we are receiving daily donations to support our pediatric colleagues in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as they cope with the aftermath of the horrible earthquake. The work of the AAP, NACHRI, Children’s Hospital Boston and all the children’s hospitals for the children of Haiti is the embodiment of the love, courage and commitment that the Olympic torch is meant to symbolize.