“Many Latter-day Saints Pass Torch,” Ensign, Apr. 2002, 77–78
On 22 December 2001, Elizabeth Howell ran with the Olympic flame down the White House south lawn track and handed the torch to United States President George W. Bush. She opened the locket that hung around her neck and showed the president a photo of her husband, Brady, who was killed in the 11 September terrorist attack on the Pentagon.
“My husband was all-American,” she told the president. “I know,” he answered, tears visible in his eyes.
Sister Howell, a member of the Crystal City Ward, Mount Vernon Virginia Stake, was chosen by White House officials and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee of the Olympic Winter Games (SLOC) to pass the torch to the president. She represented her late husband, who was a returned missionary, a Primary teacher and Cubmaster, and an intelligence watch officer of the Pentagon’s Navy Command Center. The U.S. Department of Defense posthumously awarded Brady the Defense of Freedom Medal, the civilian equivalent of the military’s Purple Heart.
Passing the torch to the president “was healing in so many ways,” said Sister Howell. “[He] was warm and genuine. He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss. You’ve done a terrific job carrying on.’”
Sister Howell, who was also invited by SLOC president Mitt Romney to carry the nation’s placard in front of the U.S. athletes during the Olympic opening ceremonies, was one of 11,500 inspirational torchbearers chosen to carry the Olympic flame. The torch carriers relayed the flame 13,500 miles across the United States to its final destination in Salt Lake City. Torchbearers—nominated by a person whom they inspired—were selected to carry the flame within their own communities. Like Sister Howell, hundreds of these flame bearers were Latter-day Saints. Featured here are a few who represent the kinds of people who carried the torch.
Jason and Jenny Pyle, members of the Joshua Ward, East Lancaster California Stake, together carried the torch on 18 January in San Francisco as hundreds of people cheered them on. Brother Pyle was chosen to be a torchbearer for risking his life to donate part of his liver to save his infant son, David, who suffered from a potentially fatal liver disease. David is now a healthy and active three-year-old.
Gary Rowels of the Arvada Third Ward, Arvada Colorado Stake, carried the flame on 27 January in Bozeman, Montana, the city where his five daughters were born. His daughters nominated him because of his commitment to children—as a teacher, coach, and father. “As a dad you do your best all through your life and try to be a good example to your children,” Brother Rowels said. “For my daughters to think enough of me to nominate me to carry the flame is beyond words.” A 30-year convert to the Church, Brother Rowels says he uses the gospel as a blueprint for being a good father.
Mike Taylor and Pat West of the Orem First Ward, Orem Utah Stake, carried the flame consecutively on 5 February in Provo, Utah. Sister West nominated Brother Taylor because of his dramatic recovery from a serious head injury that put him in a coma, at age 20, while serving a mission . Within a year of his injury, Brother Taylor relearned how to talk, walk, and even run. He joined the BYU track team and wrote a book about his recovery. Pat West was among those torchbearers asked to pass the torch to the person they had nominated.
In Salt Lake City, Dale Hull of the Highland Third Ward, South Jordan Utah Highland Park Stake, walked with the torch on 8 February without the help of his cane. After Brother Hull suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed in 1999, he learned to walk again with the help of his physical therapist, who nominated him to carry the flame. Brother Hull trained with his therapist for months to prepare for his portion of the torch relay. Supported by a harness, he practiced walking on a treadmill, carrying a weighted baseball bat as a makeshift torch.
The torch had made its entrance into Salt Lake City the day before Brother Hull carried it. Following the same route that Mormon pioneers traveled, the torch passed through Emigration Canyon, entering This Is the Place Heritage Park to the cheers of a crowd of some 25,000. A few hours later, Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles carried the torch up the steps of the Church Administration Building, where the First Presidency and other members of the Quorum of the Twelve welcomed it.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, while holding the torch up to the thousands of spectators and media who had gathered, said, “We salute the state of Utah, whose party this is. We salute the United States of America, the host country of these games. We salute the whole world as it joins in celebrations of excellence. We salute the officials who have worked so hard and who have gathered from over the world to make of this a great success. And most of all, we salute the athletes who will join in a great contest of excellence.
“To every one we extend our gratitude and best wishes. Let this be a great and historic and wonderful occasion for everyone who joins with us here in this beautiful city and in this great mountain place of beauty.”
President Hinckley then passed the torch to Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve, who carried the flame a short distance through the cheering crowd toward its eventual destination in the Olympic stadium.