Tahoe boasts inspirational Torchbearer | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe boasts inspirational Torchbearer

Susan Wood

Mary Ebright has run on pure determination since losing her lower right leg to bone cancer at age 13.

Now 45 years old, the disabled runner, skier, nurse and mom will carry the Olympic torch through the streets of her South Shore home in January.

“Who would have thought an opportunity like this would come into my life?” said Ebright, who was nominated by her friend Liz Norman.

Other South Lake Tahoe relay runners include police officer Bart Owens, cross country running coach Dominique Westlake and ski coach Mike Shreve. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee will release the full list of torchbearers Thursday.

Shreve was nominated by his wife, Dawn.

“Besides the fact that I love him, he was an Olympic hopeful,” she said Friday.

Ebright, a registered nurse at Barton Memorial Hospital, uses a special prosthetic designed for running. She’ll carry the torch through town Jan. 20 as it makes its way from 1960 Olympics host Squaw Valley on its 46-state, 65-day journey.

The torch will be ignited in Athens, Greece, and end its 13,500-mile trip in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games in February. When the torch arrives in South Lake Tahoe, a massive celebration is planned at Caesars Tahoe.

Upon discovering a month ago she would carry the torch, Ebright said she was stunned. Like others who have come before her, she called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Ebright’s competitive running career has kept pace with advancing technology for disabled runners. In October 1999, she tested her three-day-old special prosthetic called the Flex Foot in her first event – the Lake Tahoe Marathon 5 kilometer race.

Ebright was a little leery of the carbon fiber limb initially, but she hunkered down and completed the course.

“It was the thrill of my life,” she said.

Ebright’s love of sports started early when the 13-year-old went skiing in Big Bear for the first time.

Shortly thereafter, she required a below-the-knee amputation to combat osteogenic sarcoma. Even that didn’t quell her enthusiasm for skiing.

“I fell in love with the sport and promised myself I would do whatever it took to master downhill skiing. I saw no reason for the loss of my limb to prevent me from skiing,” she said.

The desire to ski has stayed with her, including a stint at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colo., to train at a downhill racing camp.

“The only stumbling path for any disability is cost,” Ebright said. That’s why she’s grateful to two organizations that have helped her financially pursue her dream – Disabled Sports USA based in Rockville, Md., and the Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego.

She also credits her parents, who instilled in her a sense of self-esteem to overcome the odds. She’s tried to pass this on will to her three children – 6-year-old daughter Andi and adult sons Devin and Keith.

“I can only take my experience and give this gift to my daughter,” she said. “The gift of hard work will get you anywhere and take you far in life.”

Ebright has also counseled others with physical challenges. A woman who lost her leg in a boating accident at Pyramid Lake last year sought Ebright’s advice.

“What a gift I can give to help her with the here and now. I know if she wants to ski, she’ll ski. If she wants to run, she’ll run. Sometimes I don’t realize how much we can make a difference,” Ebright said.

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