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Pemberton comes around

Lizz Kelly made sure torch relay was something everyone could enjoy



Pemberton was painted red and white all over on Saturday as the torch arrived in the valley.

Though only one of the townsfolk was to carry the torch that day, hundreds of citizens dressed in red and lined the streets to watch torchbearers escort the flame from the Community Centre on Portage Road to Frontier Street, past the Pemberton Valley Supermarket and on to Prospect before heading to Mount Currie.

The spirit on display can be credited in part to a red-headed ball of energy that Pembertonians know as Lizz Kelly. A longtime resident and mother to Brendan, a 14-year-old freestyle competitor, she and a group of dedicated volunteers have worked hard to keep the spirit alive, even when it looked like the Games would barely touch the town.

Pemberton won't get much of a tangible Olympic legacy, but it hasn't been for lack of trying. Citizens initially hoped they would occupy prominent roles running the Whistler Sliding Centre, but that later fell through.

Then the town got excited at the prospect of hosting the Jamaican Bobsled Team while it trained at the Whistler Sliding Centre. Problem was, the team couldn't book any time at the sliding centre and they had to relocate to Utah.

Next it prepared to house a private security force in the industrial park. Local entrepreneurs had a permit secured for months so that 1,600 personnel could lay their heads down in Spud Valley after long days checking bags at Olympic venues.

The security company ultimately opted to locate in Whistler.

Then the Village of Pemberton wanted to secure a park and ride for citizens who had to commute to Whistler. VANOC didn't want to pay for it - and was then savaged in a letter from Mayor Jordan Sturdy and council, who said they had yet to realize "one benefit" from the Games.

Through it all, Kelly has remained positive. She took the reins of the torch relay committee and established a Facebook group to keep citizens pumped about "Our Day." On Feb. 6 she was up since 5:30 a.m. putting up banners, balloons and coordinating torchbearers in a multi-purpose room at the Pemberton Community Centre. She oversaw a day that included an outdoor hockey tournament, polar bear swim, barbecue and fireworks. The turnout of hundreds suggests it was a success.

How has she kept so happy even when it looked like the Games would pass Pemberton by?

"I just never thought of it that way," she says. "I just knew that it was a good thing. I didn't think of it as something we would gain from, me personally, and as a town. I just thought of everybody enjoying the experience."

Few things seem to have her more excited than the torch relay.

"It starts with the torch, which for me is space and unity, harmony, all those really great things," Kelly says. "I really believe that the torch relay's had an ability to bring awareness to that, to bring everybody together."

Even though it was invented by Nazis? Kelly gives a playful kick for asking the question.

"I knew you were going to say that!" she laughs.

"I think of the athletes, of my son, I think about his experience and what it would be like and just people competing in a healthy way, in an athletic way instead of the little things. I think it's just a wonderful thing."

Susie Gimse, a Pemberton councilor and director for the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, says Pemberton's Olympic spirit is alive and well thanks to Kelly's work.

"Lizz Kelly and her team were absolutely amazing," Gimse said. "They've been working extremely hard over the past several months to put together, not only the events of today, but the events that will be occurring in the upcoming weeks and they've worked very hard and maintained just a tremendous, positive spirit throughout.

"We're very fortunate to have that kind of community involvement and dedication and commitment to the community."

The party isn't over for Pemberton. For the month of February it is hosting Winterfest, a series of events that include public viewings of hockey games, dinner theatre, an artisan show and MuchMusic Video Dance for the town's youth.

Pemberton initially had the ambition to be the next Heber City, Utah, a small town near Salt Lake City that celebrated throughout the 2002 Winter Games. With Kelly's help, it can still get there.