Torch runners almost miss out on Olympic relay

Olympic Torch Relay Nelson

With the winter weather conspiring against them, Maple Ridge’s Ron Antalek and Chris Ius almost missed out on their chance to take part in the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay last weekend.

The pair were both flying with their families into Castlegar Saturday morning to take part in the relay. Antalek, a local realtor and philanthropist, was scheduled to run in Nelson that afternoon, while Ius, a two-time Olympic boxer, was scheduled for Trail on Sunday.

As their Air Canada Jazz flight approached the runway at West Kootenay Regional Airport, the plane abruptly turned around and headed back for Vancouver.

The cloud ceiling was too low, said the pilot, and it was unsafe to land the plane.

“The landing gear was already down, and they had to turn it around,” says Antalek. “We couldn’t believe it.”

Back in Vancouver, with the clock ticking, the pair discussed their options.

Ius was prepared to make the eight-hour drive to the Kootenays, in near white-out conditions along the Crowsnest Highway, in his truck. But that would be too late for Antalek, who had just hours before he was scheduled to run.

Thankfully, the weather was clearing in the Kootenays, and Air Canada had a flight headed back into Castlegar.

“The guaranteed us they would be able to land this time,” said Antalek. “So we went for it.”

However, time was winding down on Antalek. As the plane approached Castlegar, for the second time, he had just an hour to find some sort of transportation and drive to Nelson.

Thankfully, a woman on the flight overheard his predicament.

“Meet me in front of the terminal,” she said. “And run like hell.”

Ius and Antalek parted ways, and the whole clan made the 50-km drive through the winding West Kootenay mountain roads in record time.

“I had 20 minutes to spare,” said Antalek. “It was like James Bond – we cut it pretty close.”

It was dark as he ran through the streets of Nelson, his wife Cathy, and their son and daughter cheering him on. After everything he and his family went through that day, Antalek said it made the relay all the more special.

He still has the torch he carried that day, still covered in soot.

“I think I’m going to put a little shellac on it,” he said. “So it stays just the same.”