A symbol of togetherness

Mireille Lavoie runs along Harris Rd. in Pitt Meadows carrying the Olympic torch.

Anxious but proudly displaying a hand-made sign that says “Ma mére porte la flamme,” 13-year-old Sarah Dorlet looks down Harris Road for a bus bearing her mom.

Flanked by her sister Emilie, 19, and her dad Stephan, they lined the sidewalk early, surrounded by friends, family and students from École Pioneer, where her mom Mireille Lavoie teaches kindergarten.

“I know Mireille was excited because she didn’t even eat breakfast this morning,” says Stephan.

He entered his whole family in the Royal Bank of Canada’s 2010 Olympic Torchbearer Contest –unbeknown to Mireille.

When she was picked as a torchbearer, he did ask if she was willing to trade places.

“There was no way I would give up my spot,” says Mireille, whose brother ran with the flame before the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

“The flame is something that’s rare. It’s a symbol of togetherness that brings all Canadians together.”

Growing up in Quebec City, Mireille moved out west in 1993. The prospects of landing a job as a school teacher were much better in B.C.

“I thought I would never have to speak English in my life,” she says.

A bit of a fitness buff who does six hours of cardio and six hours of weight training a week, Mireille didn’t have to train for the 300 metre stretch she ran in the torch relay.

But she’s been sharing her enthusiasm for the Olympics and fitness with her class in Coquitlam.

Every morning her students do aerobics or dance to improve their balance.

Mireille also tries to keep them away from sugary snacks.

“Exercise, to me, is as important as eating or sleeping,” says, Mireille who moved to Pitt Meadows in 2001. “It’s something I can’t live without.”

She promised her class that when she resumes work after the Olympics that she’ll be returning with a real torch.

Just after 8 a.m. Monday, Mireille was the first of 17 torch bearers to carry the Olympic torch through Pitt Meadows.

She started with a brisk walk, heading out of Meadows Vale Shopping Centre with the flame held high.

As she drew closer to McMyn Road, her friends and students – clad in red and white – surged onto the road, quickly climbing back onto the sidewalk as torch security drew closer.

Mireille walked, waving to each of the people who lined the sidewalk to cheer her on.

People snapped photographs and clapped. Mireille walked a little slower, mouthing hellos, just to savour the moment.

Then a security guard whispered to her: “You’ve got to start moving, we’re late.”