For me, today is day 5 of the Jeff Goins 500 Word Challenge. A program for writers and those of us writer-wannabes to get in the habit of writing every day. Write a minimum of 500 words each day for 31 days straight.
Today the challenge is: describe a day in my life I will never forget. Without sounding cliché, there are too many to choose from, however being one who enjoys a good challenge I will go with this one.
Not necessarily the greatest day in my life or one that changed the trajectory of my life, but certainly one I will never forget.
Friday, July 19, 1996.
On this date in history, the Centennial Summer Olympic Games began in Atlanta. I lived in Atlanta at the time, moving there in 1986.
For seven years, the city had been working in overdrive to welcome the world to our town. The city had been made-over and was glistening with new buildings, sporting facilities and the hoopla that surrounds the largest world-wide sporting event.
Going into the Games, I was working for a Special Events company as Creative Director and we worked directly with several corporate clients to coordinate their housing, transportation, ticketing and company events.
I was assigned to a company that has since gone out of business, CIBA-Vision.
During the final days leading up to the Games, the excitement in Georgia was palpable. The Olympic Torch Relay was making its way through the State and a few days before the Opening Ceremony I was able to travel to my hometown to watch it pass through.
On that late summer evening, my entire community had gathered to watch some of our hometown heroes carry the torch, and as they passed we stood draped in red, white and blue cheering them on, the excitement of the Games had invaded my little Appalachian community and we were overjoyed.
The next day I reported to CIBA Village. A new apartment complex on the outskirts of Atlanta that was close to the Equestrian Park where the horse competitions would take place.
My team and I readied the apartments for over a thousand guests who would visit over the next 18 days.
Two days before the Games began, a group of ten to twelve of us stood along the street outside our apartment village and watched as the torch made another pass. Those moments of seeing the Olympic Flame pass within feet of me stirred my soul and gave me a feeling of pride in my community and nation that is difficult to put into words.
Finally, the day of the Opening Ceremonies was upon us. All the years of planning and execution were now in full swing, the Centennial Olympic Games were about to open in my adopted town, Atlanta, GA.
On the night the ceremonies took place, we hosted several hundred people in a quaint pavilion not far from our complex.
Dinner and decorations and large screen televisions had been brought in for everyone to enjoy the festivities.
From the moment the Opening Ceremonies began the spectacle of the night was enthralling. Dance routines and aerobatics and Georgia celebrities welcomed the World to our homes. It was a magical night that still fills me with pride to this day.
One of the great mysteries of the Opening Ceremony was who would be the final torch-bearer to light the Olympic cauldron.
Many names were speculated, but only a very few people knew for sure who it would be.
As Evander Holyfield made his way into the stadium carrying the torch a loud road was heard, not only in the stadium, but in our small pavilion located miles from the official gathering.
Holyfield would have been a perfect choice, a Georgian, Olympian and worldwide sporting champion. However, Evander Holyfield was met on the field by Janet Evans, an American Olympic hero in swimming, it would be amazing to have a woman light the torch.
As Janet Evans made her way towards the cauldron it appeared that she had been bestowed the honor, but then it happened.
Out of the darkness a lone figure appeared, frail but mighty. The Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali walked out to greet Evans and receive the flame and the adulation of thousands in the stands and watching on television who cheered his presence.
I still remember hearing NBC’s announcer, Dick Enberg joyfully shout into his microphone, “Oh my, it’s the Greatest!” and with that, Ali turned and pressed the flame to a bal that passed through the night sky and into the cauldron, the flame was lit. Set aglow by the greatest athlete of all-time, a legend in sports and an American treasure.
Over the next weeks, Atlanta and the World celebrated the excellence of athletes from around the world. There was drama, grace and unfortunately a terrorist attack the forever marred the wonder of those days in Atlanta.
As amazing as the Games of Atlanta were, that one night, when the excitement of the world focused on a flame set aglow by Muhammad Ali will live within me forever.