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The police escort and media truck that followed Antonia Purdy made her feel special. As the first runner in the Oshawa leg of the Pan Am Games Torch Relay, Antonia took part in a traditional ceremony that honours the spirit of the games and unites both Canadians and the Pan American Sports Organization member nations.
Antonia, a nurse on 8 Eaton South at Toronto General Hospital, decided last fall to sign up as a volunteer for the Pan Am Games.
"I am always telling my kids to try something new, but I also make sure that I model that myself as well," said Antonia. "Volunteering sounded exciting and I would have hated to think after the games had left that I did not get involved when I had the chance."
Diving right in
Over the course of 10 months Antonia went through the application and screening process to become an official volunteer. She was accepted and assigned to work in the catering, clean-up and waste department at the Aquatic Centre.
The day before the torch arrived in Oshawa, Antonia received another phone call from the game organizers – this time asking if she would carry the torch.
"I couldn't believe they wanted me to help carry the torch," said Antonia. "It was a bit of a scramble to get my schedule in order for the next day – but it was worth it!"
It was pouring rain on the afternoon of the relay. But with all of the enthusiasm and team spirit Antonia couldn't wipe the smile off her face. After changing into her uniform, the group practiced passing the flame to one another.
Altogether there were 3,000 torchbearers in the
41-day relay. Before the flame arrived in Canada in May, it was lit at the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Antonia tried to stay in the moment and enjoy the experience as she ran the 200 meters before passing the flame on. Her husband Brendan, who is also a staff member at UHN, son Sean, and their family dog were on the sidelines cheering her on.
"It was with tremendous pride and respect that I watched her run a few hundred meters before stopping to fire up the next bearer's torch," said Brendan. "As soon as the handover took place, she did a little victory dance, pumping her arms in the air to celebrate the success of will over weather."
The torch relay was such a unique experience for Antonia and one she will always remember.
"It was a lot of fun to be asked to do it," said Antonia. "It was a great honour and I felt so proud to be a part of the games – plus it shows my kids I am not just boring old mom and they couldn't be more proud of me."