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Paralympic torch arrives in Whistler on Monday

40 local and regional torchbearers to carry flame up mountain, through village

When it comes to Vancouver and Whistler winning the Olympic bid nearly seven years ago, one anecdote in particular sticks out in Silvia Brandt's mind.

She was in Vancouver and a guy in a wheel chair rolled up to a big pickup truck parked nearby. She asked if he needed help getting into the vehicle, and he declined. She then watched as he opened up the door of the truck, put one hand inside, pulled himself up, then pulled up his wheelchair with his other hand, and closed the door.

"How many able-bodied people are able to do that?" she asks today. "I know lots of people in wheel chairs and I think most of them should be included in the Olympics because they are terrific athletes."

Brandt will carry that admiration with her on Monday, March 8 when she runs through Whistler as one of the dozens of people chosen to carry the Paralympic torch through the resort municipality.

The retired nurse who spent a lot of time during her career working with disabled people explained she was selected after entering the B.C. government's province-wide contest for Paralympic torchbearers. She got the call this January.

"It is a terrific experience, and I am really looking forward it," said Brandt.

Gail Bremer, from Richmond B.C., was equally excited when she found out from the province that she would carry the Paralympic torch in Whistler.

"I swear, I just yelled in his ear," she said. "What an honour, and what a privilege. This is just the most wonderful thing that could happen to me."

Bremer's desire to be a Paralympic torchbearer comes from many years working with disabled individuals and athletes. She was also the medical coordinator for the Special Olympics in Vancouver and she was the medical and hospitality coordinator for a recent wheelchair rugby tournament.

"I would like to use this incredible honour and privilege to bring increased awareness to disability sports and just to the ability of people with 'disabilities,'" she said. "I truly hope the Paralympics get the exposure and Canada will back them like they backed the Olympics."

Other names on the Whistler's torchbearer roster include para-athlete and 2010 competitor Matt Hallat, Brian Rode from the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program, Leslie Clark, Mayor Ken Melamed, Bob Barnett, Lillian Goldsmid, Sarah Galashan and Stephanie Matches.

Torchbearers were selected for their achievements and for overcoming challenges, said Maureen Douglas from the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) during a press conference on Tuesday.

Whistler's torch relay event will mark the eighth day of the 10-day relay.

The relay began March 3 in Ottawa. From there, it moves to Quebec and Toronto before heading west to Victoria on March 6. On March 7, the flame will be carried through Squamish. It passes through Whistler the next day and then moves on to Lytton and Hope before arriving in Vancouver on March 10. The relay continues through Vancouver until the Paralympic opening ceremonies kick off on March 12 at B.C. Place.

First Nation groups will light the flame in each of the 13 community celebrations before passing it onto the torchbearers.

In Whistler, the Lil'wat Nation will ignite the flame at a special public ceremony scheduled at 11:30 a.m. at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural centre.

At noon, the flame will be carried through the upper village and then up Blackcomb Mountain on Wizard Chair and Solar Chair. From there, torch bearers will move the flame across the Peak to Peak Gondola before descending back to the village on Whistler Gondola.

Lil'wat Dancers will accompany the flame as torchbearers carry it from the gondola to Village Square, where the official Paralympic torch ceremony begins at 3 p.m. For the next two hours, 40 torchbearers will run various 300-metre legs through the village following a circuit between Village Square, Town Plaza, Mountain Square and Skier Plaza.

Entertainment includes the Whistler Children's Choir and band Delhi 2 Dublin.

"It will be a remarkable show," said Douglas.

The Paralympic torches will resemble the torches used for the Olympics, although they will be coloured steel blue instead of white and are slightly smaller in design. Torchbearers will also wear matching steel-blue uniforms and special Paralympic red mittens.