SSHS graduate taking part in Olympic relay

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— Like many others, Courtney Bell came to Steamboat chasing Olympic dreams.

In 1998, Bell left her home in Belmont, N.H., and moved in with her aunt and uncle, Carol and Newell Sicker, to train with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. But her childhood hopes of becoming an Olympic skier were shattered after she blew out her knee in her first USSA freestyle competition.

Although Bell will not get the chance to compete in Salt Lake City like her former teammates and other Steamboat athletes, she, too, will share in the Olympic spirit as she carries perhaps one of the Games' greatest symbols of Olympic dreams the torch.

On Friday, the Steamboat Springs High School graduate will carry the Olympic flame along a quarter-mile stretch of Route 1 in Kittery, Maine.

"I love the Olympics, the spirit of the Olympics, the competition, the camaraderie, the whole thing it stands for, the coming together," Bell said. "It's an incredible spirit."

Bell is one of three women with Steamboat ties who will have a chance to carry the Olympic torch on its 65-day journey through 46 states before ending in Salt Lake City.

Coca-Cola, a corporate sponsor of the 2002 Olympics, selected Bell, a sophomore at Syracuse University, to be among the 2,500 torchbearers.

Inspired by Bell's strength after the death of her father at an early age and the end of a promising skiing career, Bell's mother decided to nominate her daughter as a torchbearer. Joanie Bell began an e-mail campaign encouraging more than 50 family members and friends to also nominate her daughter.

"Despite all the difficulties in her life, Courtney has remained optimistic, spirited and thoughtful in everything she does," Joanie Bell said. "To carry the Olympic torch will be a flicker of her dream come true."

Bell's Olympic dream began at a young age when she learned to ski before she could talk, Bell said. She attended Carrabassett Valley Academy in Sugarloaf, Maine, to ski.

During her junior year of high school, Bell moved to Steamboat to train with the Winter Sports Club. Skiing in Steamboat ignited her passion for Olympic glory, Bell said.

"I dreamed of the Olympics since I was a little kid. I was one step closer being in Steamboat, training with people getting me to that level," Bell said.

"Steamboat lit the flame."

However, in her first competition in Colorado, Bell blew out her knee on a mogul course, which meant she would finish her high school career off skis. Bell stayed in Steamboat and became active at Steamboat Springs High School, participating in the speech club and the "Sailor Update" on KBCR-FM.

"I loved Steamboat, so I stayed. I couldn't ski, but there were other things to do and I got involved with the town," Bell said. "Every cloud has a silver lining."

Although Bell has not returned to Steamboat since she graduated in 2000, she has plans to return this spring.

In the meantime, she is preparing for Friday. For someone who works out every day, the quarter-mile run should not be a challenge, but the excitement for the big day is building.

"I'll have the biggest smile of my life on my face and that warm fuzzy feeling of adrenaline and I'll be thinking, 'Don't trip,'" Bell said of what will be going through her mind during her moment of Olympic glory.

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