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Bearers are All-Stars for a day

SHARE Bearers are All-Stars for a day

CHEYENNE, Wyo. ? Kelly Moon rolled out of bed at 4:40 a.m. Wednesday. She had tossed and turned for nearly two hours, anxious to go for a jog on slick streets in 5-degree temperatures.

This was not going to be an ordinary early morning run. She would carry the Olympic flame as the sun rose over this old railroad town.

"I was wired," said the 27-year-old elementary school art teacher.

Moon joined other more bleary-eyed runners at 6 a.m. for instructions at a Holiday Inn before a shuttle delivered them to their starting places. "We have plenty of Coke and Diet Coke to kick you right in," relay volunteer Kevin Jones quipped.

The first torch runner hit the road at 7 a.m.

Moon knew carrying the torch as people were still rubbing the sleep out their eyes meant not many would see her jog through town. But, she said, it's not about her. It's about the flame.

Family members traveled from as far as New York and Chicago, uniting her and three siblings on a rare occasion that wasn't a holiday.

"That's what makes it special," Moon said. "In a small microcosm, that's what this torch relay is all about, bringing people together."

The cross-country event left Wyoming for Fort Collins, Colo., Wednesday morning where six inches of snow had fallen. An evening celebration will be held in Denver.

Snow storms have preceded the flame wherever it has gone on it Rocky Mountain swing. The water-laden variety fell Tuesday evening just as the convoy pulled into Cheyenne.

Neither the weather, location nor time of day takes away from runners' excitement to seize what everyone of them says is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

Some must rise early in the morning to hit the road before the sun comes up. Aside from a handful of relatives and friends clustered at torch exchange points, not many spectators see them.

Marcia Serrato, 44, didn't mind Wednesday morning. Her parents and brothers and sisters were there. That's what mattered. She joked about how "inhumane" it was to have to get up at 5:30 a.m. "But I just welcome the opportunity."

And it doesn't last long. Runners have the lighted torch in hand for about two minutes before passing the fire on. "It was short and sweet but fun," Serrato said.

Others play to large crowds lining streets or gathered for the caldron lighting celebration at the end of the day. The "Coca-Cola guy" precedes the runner by about 15 minutes to hype up spectators with cheers and jock rock tunes.

Local relay committees often suggest the day's final runner.

Retired military officer Ted Gostas carried the torch in to the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo grounds Tuesday night.

On stage, the 63-year-old former POW in Vietnam soaked it all in. He raised the torch high above his head with one hand, while blowing a kiss to the crowd with the other. He then slowly ignited the caldron to roaring applause.

Asked to say a few words, Gostas moved to the microphone.

"Each one of you is in this torch. Let's live for peace. That's what the Olympics are about," he said.

Dennis Feeney, 22, enjoyed cheers and spectators calling his name Tuesday afternoon as he headed into downtown Wheatland, 75 miles north of Cheyenne.

"It was quite a moving feeling and atmosphere around you," he said.

The University of Wyoming geology student had about as much fun after his quarter-mile run as during it.

Strangers wanted a picture with him and the torch. Kids sought his autograph. He figures he signed his name 100 times.

"The were all looking up to me. That's not something I've had before. I got to be an All-Star for a day."

E-MAIL: romboy@desnews.com