FEATURE — Fall 2004

Former Bears volleyball coach Teri Clemens carried the Olympic torch from the gates of Francis Field to Big Bend.

University Touched by Olympic Flame

On June 17, St. Louis, site of the 1904 Olympic Games—the first Games in the Western Hemisphere—hosted the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay. St. Louis was one of four U.S. stops in the flame's round-the-world journey en route to Athens, Greece, host of the 2004 Summer Olympics. Several members of the University community were among the 125 St. Louis torchbearers. Teri Clemens, a former coach of the volleyball Bears, who elevated her team to seven Division III National Championships, received the flame from alumnus and area philanthropist E. Desmond Lee, B.S.B.A. '40, at the gate to Francis Field—one of the University venues used during the 1904 Games. Her reaction depicts the best of what the flame brings to one, to all:  

"Yesterday, I experienced the greatest moment of my life—OK, with the exception of each of our six children arriving. I carried the Olympic torch in St. Louis. I was giddy like a 6-year-old waiting for my mom to put on my new backpack on the first day of school, nervous as if I were singing in front of Carnegie Hall, and proud as if I were competing for America in the Olympics. My bunches of NCAA National Championships went out the door; any USOC or NCAA Coach of the Year awards seemed meager—Olympic Festivals shriveled—and my confident demeanor challenged—I was carrying the Olympic flame!

E. Desmond Lee, B.S.B.A. '40, entered Francis Field from Big Bend and completed his run at the gate of Francis Field.

"I wasn't a bit embarrassed by not being able to sleep the night before, by not being able to eat the day of, or by trying on my uniform—twice! I savored the building anticipation among St. Louisans, and didn't even care that I cried during and after some of my interviews the day before and day of—I was emotional.

"I've always been an Olympic junkee, but does the USOC even begin to get what this opportunity does to people? Does the USOC even know that I can't even LIVE with myself now—I'm that overwhelmed!

After carrying the torch up the steps of Brookings Hall, Michael DeBaun (left), associate professor of pediatrics, was greeted by School of Medicine Dean Larry Shapiro and Judy Cook, wife of Alan L. Schwartz, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics.

"I received the torch at Washington University (site of the 1904 Olympics), and my coachin' stompin' grounds—another emotional twist to swell my heart and tears. Even with my weak lungs, which have so painfully invited respirators to help me breathe many times in the past few years, I whipped 'that baby' up in the air and took off with the spirit that the torch brings to the world. It was as if God sent a breeze that filled my weak lungs, and I felt refreshed and RAN! I ran the whole 600 meters—and I can't do that! And do you know what ached when I finished: my JAWS! From the exaggerated, silly, broad grin that I couldn't wipe off my face for 600 meters.

"My kids ran alongside of me on the sidewalk, yelling 'Go Mom!' and 'You rock, Mom.' They were so proud … I honestly never knew they were THIS proud.

"OK, so it was live on TV here, and now all of St. Louis knows what a geek I was for a day. But do you know what? I think I'm just going to savor this and be that geek for a long, long time … because if I can reach people daily like the torch reached me, then it really does represent the spirit of the world.

"Life is really good."

—June 18, 2004, letter from Teri Clemens, former coach of the Washington University volleyball Bears, to John Kessel, USA Olympic beach volleyball coach who won the gold medal in 2000 in Sydney