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UA prof, 2 students help Olympic Torch burn bright

By Kaila Wyman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday Jan. 11, 2002

Flame will make first ever visit to Tucson Sunday

Two UA students and a faculty member will run in the Olympic Torch relay this weekend as the flame makes its way through Tucson on its way to Salt Lake City.

Irene Topor, an associate professor of special education, rehabilitation and school psychology; business freshman Heather Nelson; and sophomore Branden Lombardi were named as three of the 11,500 torchbearers nationwide in the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay.

Topor - the only one who will actually carry the torch in Tucson - will run the torch for one-fifth of a mile on North Country Club Road to the Reid Park Stage. She, along with more than 40 other Tucsonans, will carry the torch in the 13,500-mile relay that ends at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on Feb. 8.

The three and a half hour relay through town will pass by the University of Arizona on East Speedway Boulevard sometime between noon and 1 p.m.

Topor's boyfriend, Richard Young, nominated her by writing to Coca-Cola and telling the company about her job. At UA, Topor prepares teachers to work with students who are blind or visually impaired.

Topor said that while she carries the torch, she would like to stand for the unity she believes the olympics represent.

"It is a time when differences between people go away because we all come together," Topor said. "It makes me proud to be a part of that."

Nelson, a UA soccer player, will carry the torch tomorrow in Albuquerque, N.M.

Nelson's nominator remains unknown, leaving her clueless as to why she was chosen.

"It's weird because everyone's stories are about cancer survivors and stuff," she said. "If I knew who nominated me, I would say thanks because it is such an honor to even be able to hold it and a once-in-a-lifetime chance especially since I haven't done anything too special."

Nelson is allowed to bring one person with her while she carries the torch. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee, Chevrolet and Coca-Cola recommended bringing the one who nominated her. But because this person is anonymous, she chose to bring her older sister, a graduating senior who also plays on the soccer team.

"I really look up to her," Nelson said. "She helped me a lot in my first year."

Lombardi, who has fought several battles with cancer in the last three years, will run the torch Sunday night in downtown Phoenix.

Although he is not currently enrolled at UA - he took time off from school to recover from cancer - Lombardi has raised more than $50,000 for cancer patients through three charity golf tournaments.

"For anybody that has gone through what I have gone through, it is an honor to carry the torch," he said.

A train will transport the torch and spend much of Sunday in Tucson before continuing on to Phoenix.

Forty-six other Tucsonans will carry the Olympic Torch this weekend. The relay through Tucson begins at 10 a.m. at the Amtrak train station, 400 E. Toole Ave. and will continue to Reid Park, where an official ceremony will take place.

The relay will then continue at 11:45 a.m. past the Trini Alvarez-El Rio Golf Course where, at 1 p.m., bicyclists will take the Torch to Old Tucson Studios.


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