Torchbearers' burning memories

Women who have carried the Olympic torch compared the two-tenths of a mile run to a magic carpet ride. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Carrying the Olympic torch is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We spoke to six women who were chosen for the honor at three different Games; they shared their experiences of what it's like to have the honor of taking care of the torch for two-tenths of a mile.

Denise Landry, 48, Plano, Texas

1996 Atlanta Summer Games

Landry grew up playing on the Prague, Okla., homestead of Jim Thorpe, a Native American who won the decathlon at the1912 Stockholm Olympics.

"I'm part-Cherokee, and growing up I'd hear neighborhood old-timers talk about how Thorpe would travel to school on horseback and beat the horse running home. I was fascinated with him -- as an athlete, a role model, his struggles and challenges. Most of the local torchbearers were members of Thorpe's family, and I felt honored to hand off the flame to his grandchildren in honor of 'Bright Path,' his Indian name. I remember the torch being a lot lighter than I thought it'd be. Most of us will never be an Olympian, so to participate in such a small way is such an honor."

Linda Picklesimer, 65, Carrollton, Ga.

1996 Atlanta Summer Games

Several University of West Georgia co-workers nominated two-time cancer survivor (breast and lung) Picklesimer, then a school administrator, as a community hero. She also volunteered for the Olympics that year as a greeter and usher in the aquatic venues.

"I could have had wings on my feet! My run was at 1 o'clock in the morning through campus, and 60,000 people came out to watch. It made me feel like I could do anything. I was given a less-than-10-percent chance of survival from lung cancer. But the Olympics had been such an exhilarating experience -- I was not ready to leave. I've had both breasts and my right lung removed, but I'm still here."

Kate Catlin, 28, Raleigh, N.C.

2002 Salt Lake Winter Games

Chosen because of her involvement with SAVE (the National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere), Catlin was a high school senior when she ran with the torch.

"I remember getting the letter in the mail and saying to my dad, 'But I have a basketball game that night.' I didn't understand the magnitude of it. But when they sent me the white windbreaker suit with the Olympic logo on it, I started to get it. I ran behind a media truck and was surrounded by support runners in case I dropped it.

"The whole world stops for a little while for the Olympics. We put aside our cultural differences and come together. I now recognize that carrying the torch was probably one of the most incredible things I will have done in my whole life. I keep it in my living room. Everyone always wants to touch it."

Donna Goldman, 62, Lincolnshire, Ill.

2002 Salt Lake Winter Games

Nominated as an inspirational community hero by her father through Coca-Cola, Goldman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the year before the 2002 Games and needed a cane to walk. Goldman is the mother of Leslie Goldman, who wrote this article.

"In the van en route to my drop-off point, the camaraderie among the torchbearers was instantaneous. I was handed an unlit torch and told to wait for the previous torchbearer. A young man approached with the flame and touched his torch to mine, lighting it. My heart was pounding and my body flooded with pure adrenaline -- so much so that I was able to walk part of my route without my cane. Carrying the torch was like riding on a magic carpet. I just floated on that flame. I've never been an athlete -- this was my way of crossing the finish line."

Tonia White, 48, Taunton, Somerset, England

2012 London Summer Games

A shift manager at McDonald's, White was nominated by her boss because of her work in reducing her store's carbon footprint. White also helps sponsor her local boys' soccer team, providing balls and uniforms. The mother of six, ages 12 to 26, said she lost about 15 pounds training for her May 22 torch run.

"The image I'll never shake is the look on my children's faces, and the pride I could see shining from them and my husband. It's very surreal, having to return to work and normal life after such a momentous occasion. You start thinking, 'Did I really just do that?' My parents [who died 18 months ago in the M5 motorway crash] were so proud when they heard I'd been nominated; it gave me an extra incentive to do the best I could."

Carly Houlahan, 18, Devon, Pa.

2012 London Summer Games

The beekeeper and co-founder of Hives for Lives -- a company that has raised more than $200,000 for cancer research via the sale of honey -- plays varsity soccer and has been a U.S. Junior National rower. She carried the torch in July in Oxford, England. She spoke to espnW before her trip.

"I'm so excited to go to London to represent my country in something so important -- although I've had dreams about dropping the torch! I hope to inspire other kids to get involved. Whether it's bees or basketball, it's just a matter of finding a cause and getting involved. Our generation is coming into our own."