The search committee for a chief diversity and inclusion officer was tasked last November with identifying an innovative and inspiring leader who would work collaboratively to create a more welcoming, diverse, accessible and inclusive community. Nearly 200 talented individuals expressed…
Two members of the Syracuse University community chosen as Olympic flame torchbearers
Two members of the Syracuse University community chosen as Olympic flame torchbearersDecember 15, 2001Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
Courtney Bell and Mariana Lebron have more than a few qualities in common.
They are both members of the residence life community at Syracuse University; Lebron is an assistant director of residence life and leadership initiatives, Bell is a sophomore in speech communication and a resident advisor in Watson Hall. And, according to those who know them, both are leaders who inspire by example.
That particular quality has led to the selection of both Lebron and Bell as Olympic torchbearers by the Coca-Cola Corp. They are among the 11,500 individuals who will carry the Olympic flame in the Olympic Torch Relay, the 65-day journey of the flame through the United States to the site of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
The flame was lit Nov. 19 in Olympia, Greece, and began its U.S. journey in Atlanta on Dec. 4. It will travel through 250 U.S. cities in 46 states before arriving for the opening of the Games on Feb. 8. More than 2,500 torchbearers were selected by Coca-Cola, a corporate sponsor of the 2002 Winter Games, through 50- to 100-word essays about the ways they are an inspiration to others.
Bell, 19, a native of Belmont, N.H., will carry the three-pound torch on a 0.2-mile stretch of Route 1 in Kittery, Maine, around 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 28. Lebron, 30, a native of Clifton, N.J., will carry the torch on the stretch of Teall Avenue between Rugby Road and Paul Avenue in Syracuse at 4:38 p.m. on Dec. 30.
Bell’s sights were set on the Olympics in childhood. She seemed destined to be an Olympic skier; in fact, she learned to ski before she could talk. She attended a private school, Carrabassett Valley Academy in Sugarloaf, Maine, to develop her talent. By her mid-teens, she had garnered dozens of awards and trophies. In her junior year of high school, she took a giant step towards fulfilling her Olympic dreams. She moved to Steamboat Springs, Colo., to train with other skiers in the highly competitive western division of the United States Ski Association (USSA).
Shortly after, though, her Olympic hopes were dashed. In her first USSA competition, Bell suffered a serious knee injury while navigating a mogul course. The injury threatened to extinguish Bell’s sense of drive and sense of determination– “It was the whole reason I was there,” she says. It forced her to give up competitive skiing, but it did not dampen her spirit. She stayed in Colorado to finish high school and focused her attention on other interests, such as the high school speech team and a radio show on a local station. Those interests brought Bell to SU, where she is now studying speech communication in the University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts.
Bell’s mother, Joanie, nominated her daughter for the honor through a form on the Coca-Cola Web site. Other members of the family also got in on the action, sending more than 50 e-mails to bolster her nomination.
“Courtney lost her dad at a very young age, and her dream has always been to ski in the Olympics,” says Joanie Bell. “After a skiing accident during a competition, both her knee and her Olympic dreams were shattered. Despite all of these difficulties in her life, Courtney has remained optimistic, spirited and thoughtful in everything she does. To carry the Olympic torch will be a flicker of her dream come true.”
While Bell’s nomination became a family project, Lebron was taken by surprise by her nomination. She received her paperwork unexpectedly in the mail over the summer. David Rosch, a colleague at SU, nominated her.
“I think the Olympic Games stand for teamwork and respect for others displayed at the highest levels,” says Rosch. “I don’t know anyone who represents that better than Mariana. She speaks up for those who don’t have a voice, she goes the extra mile, and she is one of the most caring, intelligent and genuine people I know. With all that she does for others, she deserves to carry the torch as a symbol of that.”
Lebron has worked in SU’s Office of Residence Life since July 2000. As an assistant director of residence life, she oversees four campus residence halls. Lebron is also responsible for the development and implementation of a comprehensive leadership program using the Social Change Model of Leadership Development. Lebron also serves as co-director of the University’s Residence Hall Association.
“She is a role model for all of her colleagues in the way that she puts her students first and foremost in her activities,” says Rosch, who served as co-director of RHA with Lebron last year. “She spends many evenings, weekends and her spare time teaching students how to reach their potential. I believe she is an excellent example of the type of person our nations would like to see carrying the Olympic torch.”
Lebron says she is honored to be one of the people chosen to carry the flame, a symbol of freedom and the ability to do what you want to do without being afraid.
“To be an Olympic torchbearer is an honor that touches me deeply,” she says. “There are thousands of people who deserve to carry the flame because of the difference they have made in people’s lives simply by being who they are. It is an honor to have this privilege that so many people deserve.”
As she carries the flame on Dec. 30, Lebron will be especially thinking of her parents. He mother, Mary, a former high school chemistry teacher, is battling cancer. Even after enduring radiation, chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and rehabilitation, she holds her head high and is determined to live each day to the fullest. She is inspired by her father, Florencio, who made many sacrifices over the years to provide a good life for each of his three children, and by her two brothers, Gregory and Georgepierre, who she describes as “true friends.”
“I carry the flame for them, for students and for the staff because it is their lives that ignite the passion in my life to give to others. It is their life example that lights my path.”
Bell is also full of anticipation as the day of her torch run draws closer. “The role of a torchbearer will bring me as close to the true spirit of the Olympic Games as any non-competitor can hope to get. I will be carrying not only my own love and passion for the Games, but also those same emotions for other Americans.”