The Olympic flame symbolizes a time when people from all over the world come together to cheer on their nation. Countries waged in civil war reconcile their differences for a short time to stand united and root their teams on in hopes of bringing home the gold medal. What is sometimes lost in discussions about the Olympic flame is the long journey it takes and the runners who bring the flame to its final destination. This year, women’s hockey defender and assistant captain Meagan Big Snake will be running alongside the Olympic flame is at makes its way to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
"When I first found out, I was so excited," Big Snake said. "I was shocked and stunned and speechless. This is so overwhelming and exciting. Overall, this excitement is crazy."
In her home in Siksika, Alberta, Big Snake saw posters looking for nominees to run 300-meter stretches with the torch. Big Snake immediately wanted to apply for the position, which required a written letter to the Vancouver Organizing Committee explaining why she should be selected to run with the torch. When she told her parents about her desire to run with the torch, they pretended to discourage her, saying that she should focus on school and hockey. Her parents were already aware that Big Snake’s maternal grandmother, Ellen Beck, had written a letter of recommendation and submitted it to the committee, but wanted to keep it a secret from their daughter.
The letter of recommendation impressed officials on the committee But, instead of having Big Snake run with the torch for a 300-meter stretch, they decided to make her a youth flame attendant. Big Snake is one of only 11 youth flame attendants nominated by the committee for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Her responsibilities as a youth flame attendant include guarding and accompanying the flame around the clock as it makes its way to its destination in Vancouver. The youth flame attendants situate themselves around the torchbearer, along with Royal Canadian Mounted Police, encouraging the runners every step of the way.
"It’s such an honor and a privilege because not only am I representing myself and my achievements, but also my parents, my family, the whole community, and all Aboriginal people of our country and the world," Big Snake said.
Big Snake is a member of the Siksika Nation, which is part of the Blackfoot Confederacy. She is one of six Aboriginal Canadians playing a key role in the flame’s journey to Vancouver. The committee is emphasizing the importance of First Nation, Inuit and Metis representation in this year’s Olympics. First Nation is a term of ethnicity that refers to the Aboriginal people in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Metis.
The involvement of First Nation representatives "shows the importance of the flame to the Aboriginals is so strong, and is similar to the Olympic spirit and the actual flame which signifies hope, peace and friendship," Big Snake said.
Big Snake will fly to London, Ontario on Dec. 26 (Boxing Day) and begin her duties as a youth flame attendant on Dec. 27, which is the 59th day of the torch relay. The relay lasts a total of 106 days and tours the entire country of Canada. Big Snake will have the opportunity to accompany the Olympic flame while traveling by tall ship during parts of the journey. A tall ship is a large, traditionally rugged sailing vessel.
"It’s going to be awesome to see so many parts of Canada," Big Snake said. "I get to meet new people. Those that I will be traveling with have the same heart, the same pride, the same excitement. And just seeing what the Olympic flame does to everyone that sees it; it touches everyone’s heart."
Her responsibilities as a youth flame attendant will cause Big Snake to miss the second half of the hockey season and the first three weeks of school during the spring semester. At the conclusion of last season, head coach Diane Dillon approached Big Snake and asked her if she would like to be an assistant captain for the upcoming season. The support Big Snake has received from her teammates and Dillon has eliminated any guilt she had of leaving the team. Her final game of the season will be on Dec. 5, when they travel to Connecticut to play Sacred Heart.
"The girls that I play hockey with are so supportive," Big Snake said. "They are as excited as I am. The school atmosphere-the professors, coaches and my teammates-will all come together because the Olympics are so huge."
Big Snake first became interested in playing hockey when she watched the Canadian women’s hockey team win gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. She had been figure skating for most of her life, but fell in love with hockey. Last season, Big Snake played in 25 games for the Lakers, registering an assist as Oswego State made the postseason for the first time in history.
The 2012 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, begins on Feb. 12 with the opening ceremonies and continues until Feb. 28. The Olympic flame was lit on Oct. 22 in Olympia, Greece and has since made its way to Canada, where it will travel more than 45,000 kilometers across the country.