Olympic spirit moves 82-year-old

By Ed Brock

Eloise Belle Isle will carry the 2004 Olympic flame for a quarter mile of its journey around the world, and the story of how that came to be started when the Olympics came to Atlanta.

In 1996 82-year-old Belle Isle of Morrow was walking through Southlake Mall when she saw a necklace in a jewelry store window. It was a simple gold necklace with several human stick figures joined in a circle, a symbol of the Olympics.

"I came home and on TV they said they were special made and it might be a collector's item one day, so I went down and bought it," Belle Isle said.

Then, about five months ago, Belle Isle's granddaughter Ellen Huffman saw a commercial on television for the Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay, sponsored in part by the Coca-Cola Co., and she thought about her grandmother and her Olympic medal.

"The ad said if there was anybody in your life who makes you want to be a better person they should apply to carry the torch," said Huffman.

Belle Isle was just such a person to Huffman. Her age doesn't keep Belle Isle from staying on the go, bowling and volunteering at Egleston Hospital in Atlanta and the Morrow Visitors Cen-

ter, serving as an usher at Spivey Hall and being active in the First Presbyterian Church of Jonesboro.

So Huffman submitted Belle Isle's name for the contest, never thinking she may actually win. She wrote and rewrote an essay explaining why her grandmother should be allowed to carry the torch.

"I called my grandmother and told her there might be something coming for her in the mail and if she got it to enter immediately, even though it might be a million to one shot," Huffman said.

Well, the application came and Belle Isle filled it out. A short time later she got another envelope and opened it up.

"The only word I saw on that piece of paper was ?congratulations,'" Belle Isle said.

Now, on June 18, Belle Isle will join 120 other torchbearers as they carry the flame through the city.

Including Belle Isle, Coke is sponsoring 40 of the torchbearers while the other sponsors of the relay, Samsung electronics company and the Athens Olympics organizing committee Athoc is sponsoring the other runners. They will run or walk 26 miles through the city, Coca-Cola spokesman Kelly Brooks said.

On Aug. 13 the Olympics will be held in Athens, Greece, where the ancient Olympics originated and where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

During that first modern Olympic event 220 athletes from 13 countries, all men, participated in 43 events including cycling, swimming, gymnastics and tennis.

In honor of the Olympics' return to Athens the flame is being taken around the world to various host cities beginning with Sydney, Australia. Housed in special lanterns when not burning on a torch, the flame will be carried to 33 cities in 27 countries on all five continents by a special plane called "Zeus." A second plane, "Hera," will carry the personnel who are supporting the torch relay, according to the official Athens 2004 Olympics Web site.

In the United States the flame will pass through Los Angeles, St. Louis and New York as well as Atlanta, Brooks said.

"Three of the cities in the United States, Atlanta, Los Angeles and St. Louis are former host cities," Brooks said. "New York was selected for its cultural significance."

Brooks said he believes the Atlanta leg of the relay will begin at the Coca-Cola complex in downtown Atlanta but the rest of the route won't be released until closer to the event.

Now Belle Isle is "in training" for her big moment, walking her usual walk through the mall while carrying a 2-pound weight.

"Next week I'm going to four pounds," Belle Isle said. "I don't have any problem going the distance, I just don't know how much this torch is going to weigh."

The trick is that she has to carry the torch up high so it won't singe her hair. But recently the other torchbearers and she got some tips from champion boxer Evander Holyfield during a special promotional event.

"He said just walk slow and cherish each step," Belle Isle said.

Huffman is very proud of her "Muh."

"It's literally a long time coming," Huffman said. "She's done so much in the community."

Belle Isle is also an inspiration to Becky Dingler, a part-time worker at the Morrow Visitors Center.

"She acts 20 years younger than her actual age," Dingler said. "I hope I'm going that strong at that age."