Soldier’s widow a ‘reluctant’ Olympic torchbearer
By Bruce Deachman, Canwest News Service December 13, 2009
PEMBROKE, Ont. — Canadian soldiers killed in battle and the families who must carry on without them were highlighted as the Olympic flame made its way Sunday from Ottawa to Pembroke, near Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.
Charmaine Tedford, whose husband Darcy was killed in Afghanistan in an insurgent attack in October 2006, was among a group of 20 torchbearers representing CFB Petawawa who carried the Olympic flame.
“Charmaine Tedford has suffered what no wife should have to, but knowing the jobs our husbands do, we accept the consequences, even if the eventual result is the death of our husband,” said her letter of nomination as a torchbearer.
“She holds her head high. Teaches her beautiful children that life goes on, that it’s okay to cry, that dad was truly their hero, and eventually life goes on.”
Still, Tedford said she does not want to be known as the nameless and “token” widow.
“I was reluctant at first,” she said. “But I didn’t want to let my friends down because they thought enough about me to nominate me.”
“People say, ‘You inspire me,’ and I answer ‘Why?’” she said. “And they say ‘Because you kept going on,’ and my answer is ‘I had a choice?’ The only choice I had was to keep going. I have two kids. I didn’t have the luxury of staying in bed all day and sleeping, or doping myself up on antidepressants and sleeping pills. I had two little girls I had to worry about.
“I kept hearing what my husband used to say to his guys: ‘You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.’ This isn’t about Darcy dying,” she added, “it’s about picking yourself up and moving forward.”
Her two daughters, Kaeleigh and Julia, were seven and five when their dad died.
Although she grew up in Newfoundland, Tedford remains in Petawawa, where she’s lived since 1995, because that’s where her friends are.
“There isn’t much opportunity where I came from, so why leave here? How could they support me when they didn’t know how this life works. Here they understand — you don’t necessarily celebrate the kids’ birthdays on their birthday; you celebrate on the weekend that dad’s home. You might not celebrate Christmas at Christmas, if it means he’s leaving the week before Christmas.”
A friend of Tedford’s who had also lost her husband, suggested they run together. “She said let’s run one lap, and I nearly died.”
But they kept at it, in what Tedford describes as “moving therapy sessions.”
That was in January 2008. In May that year, Tedford completed a 10-kilometre, and four months later, a half marathon in the Army Run in Ottawa.
“I’m not an athlete,” she insisted. “But maybe it’s not about being an athlete.
“Maybe it’s about overcoming challenges. And boy, you know, that was a pretty big challenge that I overcame.”
Another torchbearer from CFB Petawawa Sunday was Capt. Simon Johnson, a helicopter pilot with 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron.
“The Olympics is a very prestigious event,” he said. “It only happens every four years, and rarely does it come to Canada. In my opinion, the second-best thing to being in the Olympics itself is being involved in the torch run.”
Johnson also noted a family connection: In 1976, before he was born, his father carried the Olympic flame in Montreal.
“He was part of a coaching association, and was one of the escorts who ran along with the torchbearer. In his case, the torchbearer passed the torch to the escorts,” Johnson explained.
Johnson likes to think that one day one of his kids — Cohen is four, while Reese is 15 months — might have the same opportunity.
“Who knows?” he said. “Maybe this will become a family tradition.”
As the team neared the end of its route, Master Cpl. Michael Trauner, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan a year ago, carried the torch the final metres to a stage where base commander Lt. Col. Keith Rudderham, Col. Wayne Eyre, Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet and RBC officials thanked the crowd.
For Trauner, the occasion was special not just to be a part of history, but to dedicate at least his small portion of the relay.
“I’m doing this for something,” he said. “I’m standing for something — my friends that have suffered and lost so much overseas.”
From Petawawa, the torch continued on to Pembroke’s Riverside Park, where an estimated 7,000 people gathered outdoors for musical performances.
Special Olympian snowshoer Brian Dinwoodie lit the community cauldron.
“Brian is the quiet heart of the Ottawa Valley,” said Pembroke’s official town crier, Dave Henderson. “He doesn’t speak a lot, but he always has a smile on his face and a warm glow about him.
“He embodies the Olympic spirit of competition and co-operation.”
Earlier in the day, the streets of Ottawa Valley communities along the Olympic torch route were jammed from end to end with spectators.
Renfrew, Ont.’s Raglan Street looked like a summer fair for all the activity, with thousands or residents participating in a ball hockey tournament, crafts, horse-and-wagon rides, Olympic ring-toss games, free hot dogs, poster contests, and a visit from Santa and some of his elves.
“It’s a party to get ready for the Olympics,” said Mayor Sandi Heins.
“The torch is representative of peace and friendship, and what says more about Renfrew? People are here to embrace the moment and are so excited about it coming here.”
That sentiment was echoed at other communities along the route.
In Carleton Place, Ont., Helen Swift, 65, joined the throngs waving flags.
“I love sports and the Olympics,” she said. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything. I think it’s wonderful, to support the athletes that worked so hard for four years.”
In Almonte, Ont., 1988 silver medal figure skater Elizabeth Manley was among the torchbearers.
“They always say once an Olympian, always an Olympian,” she said, “and this just brings back all those memories for me. I kind of want to get my skates on again,” she added. “It inspires me.”
Manley said the torch is important to Olympic athletes.
“At the opening ceremonies when it was lit (in Calgary in 1988), it’s just the experience of a lifetime, and that’s what it feels like today. I’m getting those goosebumps — that same feeling — again.”
Manley was passed the flame Sunday by Peter Trus, a 16-year-old student at St. Matthew Catholic High School in Ottawa.
“When we were getting briefed inside the Town Hall, the guy kept talking about Liz or Elizabeth, and I just thought it was just another person,” he said. “And then she walks in ... and I couldn’t believe it.”
Among the early-morning torchbearers Sunday, as the flame left Ottawa, was 1948 Olympic gold-medallist Barbara Ann Scott-King, who finished her 300-metre run in the city’s south end.
The 81-year-old said she’d been training for the past two months in her neighbourhood on Amelia Island, Fla.
“I had to have something that was 3-1/2 pounds to practice with,” she said. “The only thing I could find was my big long garden shears, and I had to tell my neighbours I wasn’t attacking them, that I was only practising.”
Scott-King, who also carried the Olympic flame into the House of Commons on Thursday, said it was an honour to be a torchbearer.
“This is the greatest thrill anyone could have. For a little old lady to be remembered and have the privilege to carry the torch is great.”
Her husband Tom King, who waited in a nearby car as friends and fans wished his wife well and snapped photos, noted that their hometown newspaper had been closely following her training regimen.
“She’s a big star there,” he said.
The 45,000-kilometre relay began Oct. 30 in Victoria, and will end Feb. 12 at the opening of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
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Torchbearer Charmaine Tedford's husband Darcy was killed in Afghanistan in 2006.Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington, Ottawa Citizen
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Soldier’s Widow a ‘Reluctant’ Olympic Torchbearer
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