For a little more than two football fields, Christine David and Chris Hennessee were treated like celebrities, virtual rock stars, even though each acknowledges they’re just hard-working individuals who got lucky. On the night in question, July 13, the crowd reached out to touch them and their precious “cargo.”
And, like that, it was all over, except for the memories the Bridgestone co-workers will carry for the rest of their lives. After all, it’s not everyone who gets to participate in the Olympic experience the way Chris and Christine got to by carrying the Olympic torch as it makes its way from Mt. Olympus in Greece to Rio de Janeiro, site of the 2016 summer games.
The two Bridgestone employees were in the country July 11-15. Christine and Chris were busy from the moment they stepped off the plane in Joinvillet (pronounced Jon-VIL-a), following a 24-hour flight from Nashville.
Both Warren County runners were scheduled to carry the torch around 6:30 p.m. The temperature was a brisk 50-60 degrees, compared to the daytime temperature of around 75. A cheering crowd greeted them as they stepped out to light their torches from the flame of the previous runner.
Chris was involved in several sports growing up and Christine was involved in rodeo and horseback riding, but they had never experienced that kind of support from fans until they stepped out of the shuttle. As Chris stepped out he threw his arms above his head, fingers outstretched, like Lebron James before every game.
“I don’t know what it’s like to play a professional sport and hear 40,000 to 50,000 people cheer for you, but that’s probably the closest thing to it,” says Hennessee with a beaming smile.
When asked how long it took, Christine replied “two seconds,” with a laugh. By Chris’ estimation, the entire time it took to “run” his segment was about three and half minutes. Thou-sands of people were lined up wanting to snap a picture or catch a glimpse of the torch and the people carrying it. Because of this, they were confined to a very slow jog.
“We did not run. They did not want us to run,” says Chris.
“It was overwhelming really,” says Christine. “It was joy, it was excitement. It was just an overwhelming ball of emotions inside you.”
Military escorts surrounded the torch bearers while they were running their 220-yard trek. When one runner was passing the Olympic flame to the next, security personnel would link their arms in a chain and surround them. “They keep an arm around you at all times except for when you’re running,” says Christine. “I felt very safe and protected and didn’t have a fear in the world for it.”
Most of the people who came to see the Olympic torch pass don’t want to cause any problems. They just want to be a part of the event, the two noted.
But, it seems there are always some who try to extinguish the flame. After the two Bridgestone employees finished their part of the circuit, a member of the crowd jumped out and attempted to put out another runner’s flame with a fire extinguisher. Before it was their turn, a member of the crowd attempted to douse the flame with a bucket of water. Both of the individuals were immediately taken into custody with no harm done.
Chris and Christine were given their torches as mementos. The large tube that was used to carry them attracted a lot of attention, especially among airport security officers. Every time they pulled it out to prove that it was nothing dangerous, people looked in awe, the two said.
Both Bridgestone workers said the torch will always be special to them. Christine has already been asked to take it to an elementary school for show and tell. She agreed.
Chris is leaving his at the Bridgestone plant. He says since Bridgestone offered him the opportunity and Warren County is his home, he wants to keep it as a memento for the company. The torch will be placed inside a glass case for any visitors or future employees to see.
When asked if the trip was anything like he hoped it would be, Chris answered with one word: “More.”
Chris and Christine both work at the Morrison Bridgestone plant. Selecting Chris and Christine to represent the company in the torch run was a process that began in August of last year through a contest designed to recognize and reward mentorship at Bridgestone. Several thousand people submitted nominations, but details about the prize were withheld.
“I wrote a nomination letter on his behalf,” says Christine. She put in an application to work at Bridgestone four years ago based on a recommendation from Chris. She said he helped her prepare for interviews, got her involved in several community service programs the company supports, and was great support for the budding employee.
The winner was chosen by company-wide votes of employees across North and South America. A month or so later, the company announced Chris was selected. The judges were so taken with her nomination letter they also selected Christine to accompany him to Brazil.
Jesse Kellum is a journalism student at MTSU. He was one of several students who recently spent a week in Warren County writing stories for the Southern Standard.