David Rice and neighbor Linda Wise were torchbearers.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
COLUMBIANA -- David Rice, a Columbiana High sophomore, is a special person.
Linda Wise, his neighbor and a housewife and businesswoman, recognized Rice's distinction, and in doing so demonstrated that she also is a special person.
Together, they became a special Olympic-flame team, and in the process created special memories for a lifetime.
Specifically, the Columbiana pair participated as Olympic torchbearers in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh.
David passed the flame to Linda as each carried the torch two-tenths of a mile, to help transport the flame across America to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Sent letter: "I nominated him [David] and we both got [picked for it]," said Linda, 36, a mother of three who wrote a letter to the International Olympic Committee extolling the merits of David, 16, a Columbiana High sophomore who has excelled in a variety of areas despite deafness.
"I got picked apparently because they were impressed by the letter that I wrote to them about David, so they picked both of us," said Linda. "This is something that I didn't expect."
Wise, who operates her own company, Elite Transcription in Columbiana, which does medical transcriptions, said she nominated Rice because "he is a very good role model for kids.
"He coaches different sports and helped my husband [Tom] coach baseball one year. He just amazes me because even with his disability, he acts like a normal kid. You really don't realize that he has this disability."
Top student: Wise also pointed out that Rice "has been deaf since the age of 3. He only has 10 percent hearing in one ear [with a hearing aid]. He's a straight-A student. He excels in three different sports. He does football, basketball and track at Columbiana High School."
Wise said she and Rice were notified in July that they were picked to be torchbearers, "and I started working out with weights and walking" to get ready.
She has been changed by the experience.
"I never thought it would be so meaningful. I think that [because] David and I did it together, it really had an effect on me, and just being part of it was a real honor," said Wise, whose training for the event encouraged her to continue her interest in physical fitness.
"I work out four times a week, walking running and weights," she said.
Rice, too, has been positively affected by the adventure.
Feels special: "I know so many other people that got nominated. They got nominated for being a special person.
"One lady [who helped cancer patients] got nominated by 83 people. That is what it meant to me. They put me in their company. It is a real honor to carry the flame," said Rice, who has a 4.0 grade-point average and is a starting wide receiver and defensive back on the football team.
But his interests are diverse. He also is member of student council, plays junior varsity basketball, lettered in track as a freshman, coaches fifth- and sixth-grade basketball at Columbiana Middle School, and is a pre-school teacher St. Jude Church in Columbiana.
Credits parents: Rice credits much of his success to his parents, Mary and David.
"They pushed me to keep doing it," he said. "They helped me if they thought I was being treated different by other people."
Rice's father said David's selection as a torchbearer has positively influenced his son and the entire family.
"It has shown him how big the Olympics is. We have been following the torch every day as it has been making its way across America. It has created more interest in our family as well as him," said Mr. Rice, noting that it has been a family experience.
Torch details: "We bought the torch and he got to keep that. We also bought the torch stand and a pin. He got to keep the white jogging outfit that he got that in advance."
David said he is hoping to join the debate team next year because he wants to become an attorney.
"I am hoping to go Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and then to Georgetown," said David, who has a sister, Vanessa, 25, and a brother, Devin, 4.