Saturday, November 14, 2009

Twelve visually impaired students carried the Olympic torch

Twelve visually impaired students from across Toronto have been selected to carry the Olympic Flame through the city's east end. The group gathered along with their supporters at Hollywood Public School on Tuesday, Nov. 10, to receive their official Olympic blue scarves and get a chance to hold a replica Olympic Torch for the first time.

The students were selected to carry the torch by RBC through the Canadian Olympic School Program.

They submitted a team pledge package to the national competition outlining how their participation in the torch relay would foster understanding of people with disabilities in their communities. A key part of their submission was an essay titled Let's Find Common Ground, written by Winston Churchill Collegiate student Ramya Amuthan.

"When you think of someone carrying the torch for the Olympics, the first person to come to mind isn't a person with a visual impairment or with a cane or in a wheelchair," said Ramya, who has been affected since birth by a genetic visual impairment called Leber's Congenital Amaurosis.

"The chances of this are like being stuck by lightning and it's something we will remember forever."

Along with the 11 other students and eight teachers scheduled to carry to torch in Scarborough, Ramya hopes people will become more focused on similarities rather than the differences of people with physical disabilities.

The Blue Scarf Ceremony was hosted by RBC, which brought long-time Canadian Olympic basketball and former West Hill Collegiate player Rowan Barrett to speak to the crowd. He congratulated the team on their accomplishment and encouraged them to persevere down the difficult path that was in front of them.

"I remember when I was sitting in your chairs and listening to other Olympians speak," said Barrett. "Now you guys have the same's something much greater than you can imagine."

The Vision Program currently helps over 400 students in the public and Catholic school boards, bringing specialized teachers to their home schools.

Robin Stewart is one of these teachers who took the lead in organizing the team's Olympic dreams.

"This is an exceptional experience that these kids will have which many of their peers won't," said Stewart. "More often that not, it's our students who are dealing with what their peers can do that they can't, so it's a bit of a flip to that."

She had been spending much of her personal time coordinating the efforts of students across the city into a cohesive pledge application, but being able to experience her kids officially recognized as Olympic Torchbearers was worth it. She gives full credit to the students for their outstanding work.

"What's so beautiful is that they earned it," said Stewart. "They were awarded it not because of their visual impairment, but rather because of what they do with their visual impairment and what they do with themselves. I think that's really important."

The exact details of where the Olympic Flame relay will take place are still undecided, but more details will be available in the coming weeks.

List of student torchbearers

Luis Santiago-Gonsalves - St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School - East York

George Quarcoo - Western Technical-Commercial School - Bloor West

Nicholas Rastasulozas - West Toronto Collegiate Institute - Bloor West

Ramya Amuthan - Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute - Scarborough

Runa Patel - Woburn Collegiate Institiue - Scarborough

Hassan Malik - Frank Oke Secondary School - York

Cameron Knox - Bloordale Middle School - Etobicoke

Kelsey Quesnelle - Silverthron Collegiate Institute - Etobicoke

Andrew Isaacson - Newtonbrook Secondary School - North York

Brittany Kolenberg - Newtonbrook Secondary School - North York

Hussain Jasim - St. Andrew's Junior High School - North York

Sarah Patel - Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute - East York


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