Unlikely torchbearer passes on her story
SUN CITY – June Ann Cooney shivered in the cold Chicago winter night and pulled her hat down tighter on her head.
Facing 20-degree temperatures and a snow-covered landscape in February of 2002, she stood with dozens of other Chicagoans eagerly awaiting their chance to experience Olympic glory.
June Ann had applied for and been accepted to carry the Olympic torch as part of the nationwide torch marathon to take the Olympic flame to Salt Lake City, where the 2002 winter games were held. She was picked as an alternate, meaning she would run alongside the actual torch bearer and be ready to take over the torch in case of an accident or emergency.
“I met the woman who was the actual torch bearer at Halsted and Wells and then a miracle happened,” she said. “She took the torch from the previous runner and then handed it to me, telling me to take it and she would be the alternate. I was so happy I just took off, and I ran about three blocks under the El tracks, and then handed it back to her and she gave it to the next runner. I felt so honored because I knew this was the torch that would light the big torch at Salt Lake City at the start of the games. The feeling of holding it gave me the sense that I had done something very special.”
June Ann says she has been a huge fun of the Olympics for many years.
“I watch all the events on television, and I usually pick a favorite athlete and root for him or her through the whole two weeks. I always wanted to do something for the Olympics, even if I couldn’t run or race.”
She had to prove she could run for a distance, was physically fit, and willing to brave cold and possibly difficult winter conditions to qualify. “It wasn’t snowing that night, and it wasn’t too windy, but it was just plain cold, and I was glad to get going and not just stand around,” she recalled. “We were met at Navy Pier, and then bused to our start locations.”
June Ann was accompanied by her husband Gary, children, and friends. Gary is prominent in his own right as a well known Lincoln impersonator who has made appearances at Sun City and throughout the Midwest and nation for many years.
“I remember one very young man in our group who was substituting for his father, who was called to go overseas in the military just before the torch run,” she said. “I also recall another man who had a stroke before this night, but recovered enough to run in the group just behind me. He was inspirational.”
The movie “Miracle” depicts the 1980 Olympic hockey team’s celebrated upset victory over Russia at Lake Placid in 1980. In February, 2002, June Ann Cooney had her own unexpected Olympic miracle.