Originally created 12/06/01

Residents take part in relay



One's a recovering stroke victim from Aiken. Another's a Medical College of Georgia student recovered from a childhood brain tumor. Another is a mentor, soldier and father. And there's a community leader, a television anchorman and an abuse counselor.

The six people from the Augusta area who will take their turn with the Olympic torch today in South Carolina have one thing in common: They exemplify the Olympic spirit. They're part of more than 11,000 people nationwide carrying the torch across America.

Tim McIlrath's parents thought overcoming a brain tumor qualified their son.

As a 13-year-old freshman in Florida, Mr. McIlrath was diagnosed as having a tumor in his brain and eye. He was brought to Medical College of Georgia Hospital for radiation therapy and surgery.

Now, as a 25-year-old, he is a senior at MCG and expects to graduate in May.

"My family had always said that it was amazing that I went into medicine." he said. "I think having that experience solidified it for me."

His stretch of the relay will be in Rock Hill, S.C. Though he will run only two-tenths of a mile, the former crosscountry runner said it will be the best run of his life: His father will accompany him along the way.

"We're looking forward to it, We've been talking it up a lot."

Willie Frazier already has started practicing carrying the torch, even though it hasn't been handed to him quite yet.

"I've just been trying to get in that position," he said with a laugh. "It may be heavy carrying that torch over time."

Mr. Frazier, a 49-year-old Savannah River Site worker and Augusta resident, was nominated months ago by co-worker Ladika Baladi and others at SRS to be a torchbearer because of his involvement in his community and his work. His run will be today in Columbia and will span two-tenths of a mile as he passes the Capitol building.

"My wife and two girls are planning to go," he said. "And they're really planning this thing for me at work. They may have if not a van, a bus or carloads of people planning to be there themselves. They've even made buttons: 'See Willie Run."'

Madeline Connelly, of Aiken, probably won't be able to run the whole way, but that's not important. At least she'll be out there.

"I'll walk real fast," she said.

Stricken by a stroke about three years ago, she was left with half of her body paralyzed. The feeling in her leg came back first.

"My arm couldn't move - nothing at all - for about six months," she said. "I still haven't got it all back, but I am determined to one day."

The 57-year-old works out three times a week on a treadmill and is enamoured with the idea of being a part of the Olympics.

"I'm very excited. I've always been a big fan of the Olympics," she said, adding that she attended the gold medal soccer match and a men's volleyball match with her husband in 1996. "I never thought about being a part of it."

Hartley Gibbons Jr. isn't worried about the one-fifth-mile run in Rock Hill. As a first sergeant in the military reserve, conditioning is not a problem.

"It should be real easy," he said.

Mr. Gibbons said he's thrilled to participate in the run.

"It was very thrilling and exciting being selected to be one of the torchbearers," he said. "It's quite an accomplishment."

The pupils and faculty at East Augusta Middle School - where he serves as assistant principal - are happy for him, too.

Mr. Gibbons was nominated by his daughter - mainly because of how much he gives to his family, school and community.

"(He) believes in giving back," she wrote in her nomination.

Rich Everitt's run will take him along Grove Street in Charleston, S.C.

"At my age, I wouldn't describe what I do as running," he said. "It's more of a jog."

The television newsman is filling one of the slots reserved for NBC employees along the torch path. Mr. Everitt said a recent trip to Salt Lake City, Utah - where he met several Olympians - makes the run even more special.

"I'm kind of pumped up about this whole deal," he said.

Jeryl Campbell, of Aiken, was nominated for her work with victims of domestic and sexual abuse. She had helped Lynn Edwards, and this was Ms. Edwards' chance to make a dream come true for Mrs. Campbell.

"My dream as a kid was always to be in the Olympics, but I'm not that kind of athlete," she said. "This means the world to me. It's just wonderful."

She will run this morning along Heidt Street in Columbia and will have a special accessory: waterproof mascara.

"I'll probably cry through the whole thing," she said, adding that she jumped up and down and screamed when she found out she'd been selected. "I can't tell you how much it means to me to be a part of something this big."

Mrs. Campbell said running with the torch also will allow her to spread the word about the Cumbee Center for Abused Persons in Aiken, where she works.

"The bottom line is clients that don't know anything about us may somehow find out about us," she said.

Augusta Runners

NAME: Tim McIlrath

AGE: 25

OCCUPATION: Medical College of Georgia student

RUNNING: Today near Rock Hill, S.C.

WHY NOMINATED: His parents wanted to celebrate his decision to go into medicine and his recovery from a tumor in his brain and eye when he was a teen-ager.

NAME: Willie Frazier

AGE: 49

OCCUPATION: Savannah River Site worker

RUNNING: Today in Columbia

WHY NOMINATED: Because of his involvement in his community and his work

NAME: Madeline Connelly

AGE: 57

OCCUPATION: Homemaker

RUNNING: Today in Charleston, S.C.

WHY NOMINATED: "With two years of Olympian effort in therapy, strangers now usually don't even notice she has a problem. She visits other stroke victims to give them the encouragement she had craved, that it can be done and persistence matters even when progress is too slow to see," wrote her daughter Kristine O'Connor.

NAME:Hartley Gibbons Jr.

AGE: 51

OCCUPATION: Assistant principal at East Augusta Middle School

RUNNING: Today in Rock Hill, S.C.

WHY NOMINATED: "My father's definition of giving back isn't exclusive to his community. It includes his state, country, and world as well," wrote his daughter Regina Gibbons.

NAME: Jeryl "Jeri" Campbell

AGE: 49

OCCUPATION: Counselor at the Cumbee Center For Abused Persons

RUNNING: Today in Columbia

WHY NOMINATED: For her work with domestic and sexual abuse victims

NAME: Rich Everitt

AGE: 46

OCCUPATION: Anchorman at television WAGT (Channel 26) in Augusta

RUNNING: Today in Charleston, S.C.

WHY NOMINATED: NBC selected Mr. Everitt to fill one of its slots.

Reach Jason B., Smith, Preston Sparks and Louie Villalobos at (706) 868-1222.