VANCOUVER, B.C. - Few people reach the brass ring of Olympic success, but the Olympic Torch Relay is giving thousands of Canadians a chance to live the dream vicariously. And Canada's transportation i...
VANCOUVER, B.C. –Few people reach the brass ring of Olympic success, but the Olympic Torch Relay is giving thousands of Canadians a chance to live the dream vicariously. And Canada’s transportation industry is playing a big part, both behind the scenes and publicly.
“From the transportation side it’s absolutely fascinating to look at, from a logistical standpoint, how many vehicles are involved,” says Katie Hammill, RBC spokesperson, Olympic Torch Relay. She says those vehicles, their drivers, and the people and items they transport have to follow a detailed (nearly to the minute and centimetre) plan for where everything, including the torchbearers, is dropped off and picked up for the entire 45,000-kilometre route across the country.
Several trucks run in the Torch Relay convoy itself, keeping three to five minutes ahead of the torchbearers. One is almost like a parade float and contains a big screen proclaiming a welcome to whatever town the Relay is going through. It also features a sound system and speakers and, according to Hammill, “It’s quite a sight to see when it comes through.”
Another vehicle, a medium-duty Kenworth hybrid co-branded with Coca-Cola, is more a shuttle bus-type truck, used to get torch bearers to and from their adventure.
Driving in the Olympic Torch Relay is a challenge that was taken up with gusto by Jim Miller, of Miller Motorsports Driver Services in Brechin, Ont. As it turns out, he was surfing online, looking for an interesting gig, when he came across the Torch Relay ad.
“I’m trying to get my own transport safety compliance company going,” Miller said from the Relay’s stop in Markham, Ont., “so I was looking for people who were looking for employees.”
He noticed an ad offering travel across Canada between November and February and wondered “What kind of circus is going to travel in the winter time? I thought it might be one of those snow-cross racing teams or something and that it would be kind of neat, so I put my name in.”
The rest is history. About two hours later Miller got a call and discovered he “got Games.”
Each night, Miller finds out where the show is going the next day and makes his plans accordingly. ” This morning it was 58 kilo-metres along the 401,” he said from Markham, “so I put on the news channel to see what the traffic was doing and figured it would take about an hour and 15 minutes to get there, put the equipment out and get them on stage.”
He then has to get his charges to lunch, to the afternoon show “and whatever else is required on the way.”
Miller is taking the gig right through to Vancouver, and says he’s responsible not only for the safety of his charges, but “to get them there on time and in a fashion that they can get their stuff on and off the stage and get going again afterward.”
It’s definitely challenging, Miller says, but it’s also invigorating.
“Every day is (made up of) people being so proud to be Canadian that it’s incredible,” Miller says. “It’s magic.”
The job also gives him a new perspective on what constitutes a true challenge. “I have a new respect for Terry Fox,” Miller says. “Having driven most of the journey that he did, I mean, we’re 13, 14 hours a day every day and we’re travelling in vehicles but he did it on one leg!”
For his efforts, Miller was surprised on New Year’s Eve when he was presented with the chance to carry the torch on Day 63 in Malartic, Que.
“I was completely unprepared for the whole experience right from the beginning when Jacquie Braden approached me to tell me right through the whole experience,” Miller told Truck West after his unexpected stint with the torch.
But for Miller, the most memorable thing about his long drive is: “Canada pride. You know, you hear about American pride and you see it at ball games with the American anthem. But the Canada pride I’ve seen from stop to stop here has been absolutely awesome. Just amazing stuff.”
Truckers and their families are involved in the Torch Relay itself, too. Dave Hartwick, for example, a driver for Kimco Steel out of Kingston, Ont. was bursting with pride when his daughter, Stephanie, carried the torch in Dorval, Que.
“I was there as a proud father,” he says. Stephanie, who works for Bombardier Transportation in Kingston, was picked in a company-wide pool to carry the torch on Dec. 9. “It was so great to watch her,” Hartwick says. “She was the very last runner out of the group there and we were very happy to see her participate. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Hartwick and his wife were on-hand with their five-year-old grandson, “And he got to see his mother carry the torch and when she was done he gave her a big kiss. He was proud of his Mom.”
Being chosen as a torch bearer came as a surprise to Stephanie Hartwick.
“There’s a lot of people across Canada that work for Bombardier,” she told her local TV station, CKWS, “so I was really surprised that I ended up being one of the people (chosen).”
“And the nice thing about it,” her father says, “is Stephanie keeps her torch forever. It’s hers -the company bought it for her.”
The torches are available for sale to each relay runner for about $350 each. Hammill say she thinks most are purchasing theirs.
Don Streuber, president and CEO of Bison Transport in Winnipeg, plans to keep his.
“It’s a sophisticated piece of electronics,” he says.
“Bombardier designed it especially for this year’s event to stay lit continuously while you’re running and during wind gusts and rain and snow.”
Streuber accepted the opportunity to run with “11,999 of his closest friends” immediately, and with excitement. His 300-metre leg along Portage Avenue on Jan. 5 brought his own contingent of fans.
“A number of volunteers said they’d show up simply to cheer me on,” Streuber says, “and some wanted to run with me.”
In his case, he didn’t enter the Relay lottery: RBC came to him. “I’m assuming I was asked because of my position with Bison,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t my good looks!”
For Streuber, being an Olympic torch bearer is an adventure, fantasy and honour rolled up in one. “In my case,” he said, “I was in a severe car accident several years ago so I view this as the culmination of my healing, an emotional event from that perspective.”
Besides fond memories and, perhaps, their torch, runners also get to keep their official torchbearer uniform: pants, jacket, hat and the official red mittens of the 2010 Games.
It appears the Games are bringing out the “Olympic Spirit” in Canadians who aren’t involved personally in either the athletics or the Torch Relay as well.
The folks at MSM Transportation, for example, have stepped up to the plate by helping members of Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team through a difficult situation.
As managing partner Mike McCarron tells it, “These players don’t make big bucks like the men; they’re representing Canada purely for the love of the sport and national pride. We wanted to support them in any way possible.”
When the Bolton, Ont. company learned that forward Jennifer Botterill was having trouble affording to ship her car to Calgary, where she was scheduled for seven months of intensive training in preparation for the Vancouver Games, MSM rode to her rescue by offering to haul the vehicle at no charge.
McCarron also put in calls to three of his Ontario partner carriers and arranged to move vehicles for three of Botterill’s teammates. When all was said and done, J&R Hall Transport had taken responsibility for handling Brianne Jenner’s vehicle, Liberty Linehaul saw that Jennifer Wakefield’s wheels made their way west and Direct Right Cartage carted Becky Kellar’s.
“Together we made sure the vehicles were waiting for the players when they arrived in Calgary,” McCarron said, joking that “If it were the Olympic men’s team we all agreed we’d charge them double.”
Canada’s national women’s team has been extremely successful over the past two decad
es, earning nine world titles and two Olympic gold medals.
Most of the team members leave their “real world” jobs to train full-time, forcing them to rely on a monthly stipend from Sport Canada and an allowance from Hockey Canada to get by.
MSM Transportation, a longtime proponent of organized hockey in Canada, also owns the St. Michael’s Buzzers provincial Jr. A hockey club in Toronto and has raised thousands of dollars for minor hockey programs.
More proof, as if any were needed, of the Olympic-scale hearts found in the Canadian transportation industry.