Jeff Heuchert, email@example.com
The sun that peeked out from behind the grey clouds overhead wasn't the only thing shining in Stratford Thursday afternoon.
The Pan Am flame was also burning brightly as it arrived in the city as part of the 41-day torch relay that is touching down in more than 130 communities in the lead up to the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games in Toronto this July and August.
Pockets of people turned out along the relay route, which started on Downie Street and snaked its way downtown and to Lakeside Drive before heading north on Mornington Street, to cheer on and snap photographs of the participants. The community celebration included brief remarks in Lower Queen's Park and carried over afterwards onto Tom Patterson Island, where there were cupcakes, refreshments and live music courtesy of Strings & Traps (whose set appropriately included a cover of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire).
“We’ve heard a lot about (the relay) in the news and felt it was important to come and see it in our community and to cheer on our local torchbearers,” said Meghan Bracken, who attended the celebration with her two young daughters.
"It's great that it brought all of these people together," she said.
When Stratford was chosen to host a torch run, the city asked Community Living Stratford and Area and Special Olympics – Stratford & Area to participate, explained deputy mayor Martin Ritsma.
James Koebel and Fran Hitchcock were two of 19 local torchbearers.
Afterwards, Koebel was all smiles, telling local media he was grateful to have played a part in the festivities.
“It’s quite an honour to carry the torch in Stratford,” the Special Olympics athlete said.
“At first I was a little nervous … I’m feeling okay now," he laughed. "My work is done.”
Hitchcock said she was far too excited about carrying the torch to get nervous and described her moment with the flame as being a very positive experience. The Community Living member especially liked getting to ride on the Razzamajazz boat with the torch to Tom Patterson Island – what was perhaps the most uniquely Stratford element about the event.
“I was pretty excited," she added.
Ritsma praised both torchbearers for their positive attitudes in all that they do in the community.
Koebel exemplifies the Special Olympic movement, he said.
"He is a very respectful young man who seldom misses practice or competition, and always gives 100 per cent and consistently demonstrates good sportsmanship."
Ritsma described Hitchcock as someone who is always happy, friendly, and willing to help.
“The sprit she carries is the same spirit that is going to be shared throughout the Pan Am Games," he added.
The Stratford celebration was part of Day 19 for the torch relay, which started in Teotihuacan, Mexico and will have traversed more than 5,000 kilometres on the road and more than 15,000 kilometres in the air by the time it reaches its destination for the lightening of the cauldron during the Pan Am Games opening ceremonies.
In addition to Stratford, the flame on Thursday visited London, Ingersoll, Woodstock, Tavistock, Waterloo and Kitchener.
The Pan American Games are the world’s third largest international multi-sport Games, only surpassed in size and scope by the Olympic Summer Games and the Asian Games.