In South Carolina, the flame, a symbol of past and future greatness, brought together dozens of wonderful stories of inspiration in the torchbearers.
by NANCY SCHWERIN
Some of the South’s most inspirational personalities carried the Olympic torch across the Palmetto State on Dec. 6. Among the torchbearers were a locally famous football coach, a mother-daughter duo, and a world-class swimmer.
John Robert “Jack” Cantey, parishioner of Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant, is a pure Charlestonian. He was born and raised in the coastal city. A 1953 graduate of Bishop England High School, he returned to the school in 1964 as the head football coach.
Never straying too far from home, the coach has proven his dedication and fortitude in supporting his alma mater and hometown. After an accident in which Cantey broke his neck in August 1978, the coach was back on the field in less than eight weeks. His recovery inspired others in the community with similar injuries, according to Angie Basha with the Bishop England Endowment Office.
For 30 years, he led the team for which he once played. From 1975 to 1999, he was also the school’s athletic director. Upon his retirement in ’99, he was inducted into the S.C. Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame. He is a seven-time conference Coach of the Year. His 186-133-5 all-time record includes several conference wins and trips to lower state and state.
He moved with the school from its downtown Charleston campus to Daniel Island in 1998, and since his retirement, he can be found driving the school bus, substitute teaching, cutting the grass, and still coaching football.
Basha said, “He embodies all the characteristics of an Olympic athlete.”
When she heard about nominations for Olympic torch runners, she sent an inquiry to school alumni. She received a great response from former students who wanted to nominate Coach Cantey as their inspiration.
“I had a good feeling about it,” said Cantey, “because some of the people I hadn’t always treated so great. People don’t always understand you’re trying to help them.”
Monday before the big day, Cantey tore cartilage in his knee. Tuesday he said he had serious doubts about whether he’d be able to participate in the torch relay. On Thursday with some help from a shot provided by his doctor, the pain subsided enough for the coach to take his spot in the relay.
On the bus with the other torchbearers — who came from all over South Carolina, Georgia and Florida — and with the Olympic flame following closely behind, they were surrounded by more than a dozen police cars and whirling lights from the motorcade. Cantey said he wasn’t sure how he would feel, but once there the emotions he felt were plentiful — nervous, excitement, and awe.
“In the van they told us nobody else in the world will be doing this at that moment,” said Cantey. “I was surprised how emotional I got riding in that van. You think you’re sort of cool, but you’re not.”
Nearly 70 Coach-Cantey supporters from the Bishop England community came to cheer for their friend and teacher.
“In a sense I felt like I was representing Bishop England, not just me,” he said, “It made me feel good to see so many people out there.”
His only regret was that he never did get to run, but he held his head high and proudly walked up King Street carrying the flame a step closer to its destination.
Ann Marie and Elise Forsberg
Forty-five minutes later, Ann Marie Forsberg, parishioner of Nativity Church on James Island, was trotting the flame down Congress Street.
Forsberg nominated her daughter Elise for the torch relay.
The 12 year old, a twin, has been hearing impaired since birth with nearly complete hearing loss. From the start, Elise has worked with numerous teams of therapists. At the age of 5, she received a cochlear implant. The procedure came on the market in 1972 and has had wonderful success in the years since. In brief, the implant works with a microphone that picks up sound, a connecting cable and transmitter, and radio waves that are sent to a receiver that stimulate the auditory nerve — a 20th century miracle in medicine. Elise’s surgery was a success.
She is active at school and in the community. She is an altar server at Nativity and attends religious education classes. The honor student is on the Fort Johnson swim team and the James Island Middle School basketball team. The young girl is hard-working and always strives to achieve her personal best, stated one of her teachers, Andi Johnson-Jordan, in an article she wrote for the local newspaper.
“She’s never known any different,” said Ann Marie Forsberg. “She’s not really aware of how hard she’s had to work; it’s just been a way of life.”
Forsberg is amazed with how much her daughter has accomplished at 12 years old, more than she thought she would in a lifetime.
“She knows how lucky she is to be able to hear,” said Ann Marie.
She said other mothers in similar situations have come to her for support. She said they look to Elise as an inspiration because she’s come so far with such a profound hearing loss. But in the beginning, Ann Marie and her husband, Dennis, sought support from other couples with children who are hearing impaired. They also looked to Tricia Jensen as an inspiration. Jensen, a local Catholic, received the first cochlear implant in South Carolina. Jensen’s success with the implant was a positive sign for Elise’s family.
It was with the motivation from others that the Forsbergs overcame great obstacles, and now that people are looking toward them for inspiration, they are giving back.
“That’s the theme here [of the torch relay], ‘Light the Fire Within.'” said Ann Marie Forsberg. “Without that motivation from other people, we’d never be where we are today. We need to let the flame continue.”
The mother and daughter daily pass on their inner flame to those who need inspiring; so the passing of the Olympic torch was a symbolic gesture from the duo. Ann Marie met Elise at the corner of Congress and Rutledge streets, where the mother lit her daughter’s torch, and the flame continued.
World-class swimmer Kathleen Wilson was appointed by the City of Charleston to bid the flame farewell from the Holy City. Wilson’s recent inspirational 13-hour–10-minute swim across the English Channel made her a perfect choice to do so.
The parishioner of Nativity Church on James Island with the support of her family, husband, Fred, and two children, and after long hours of training completed the 21.8 miles from Dover, England, to Cap Gris-Nez, France, on Aug. 25
“I think the biggest thing is that I realized I had to let go,” said Wilson, the first South Carolinian to swim the English Channel. “I talked to God and said I did all the training I could do and let everything else go.”
The primary harpist for the Charleston orchestra and member of the city swim team said the first eight hours were fun. She thought about friends and family and said a lot of Our Fathers. But as the hours went by and fatigue set in, Wilson said she was completely focused on swimming.
She had a support boat with her, but no one could touch her, or she’d be disqualified.
Anger and frustration were dominant emotions during the last hours, but the swimmer said she never felt defeated.
She has conquered two of the three big swims, the English Channel and Manhattan Island; so one remains, the Catalina Channel.
In Charleston, Wilson waited in Ansonborough Field by the Aquarium, where the flame after its trek through the city ended with the lighting of a caldron. Wilson lit her torch from the caldron and ran the flame to the waiting Coast Guard cutter. On the ship, Wilson and the captain lit another caldron. From there the flame traveled by sea to its next destination, Jacksonville, Fla., continuing to be a source of inspiration for all.