What it's like to run with the Olympic torch

Shasta Darlington and Arwa Damon run with Olympic torch
rio brazil torch run shasta darlington arwa damon von_00002428


    Shasta Darlington and Arwa Damon run with Olympic torch


Shasta Darlington and Arwa Damon run with Olympic torch 02:23

Story highlights

  • CNN's Shasta Darlington and Arwa Damon ran through Curitiba, Brazil
  • "The torch relay is an opportunity to recognize contributions made by ordinary people every day"

Curitiba, Brazil (CNN)The problems plaguing the Rio 2016 Summer Games often seem insurmountable -- and downright depressing for a journalist covering them.

So when I found out that I was going to participate in the torch relay here in Brazil and pass the flame to my colleague Arwa Damon -- I was ecstatic.
    I get to run with the torch ... and cover something uplifting!

    Ready to run! With @arwaCNN ahead of #rio2016 #olympicflame

    A photo posted by Shasta Darlington (@shastadarlington) on

    The torch has been traveling across Brazil -- a country larger than the continental United States -- since May 3. It has surfed, parachuted and canoed through some of the country's most remote corners.
    On the big day, we started with a couple of live reports as the torch began its winding way around the city of Curitiba, a less exotic destination in Brazil's south.
    Kids carrying Olympic mascots lined the route along with protesters taking advantage of the media spotlight to denounce Brazilian politics.
    We went off to a school where we met fellow runners and got our uniforms and our individual torches.
    Organizers told us how it would work: Each runner has his or her own torch with a gas canister in it. The first torch bearer on our day was Brazilian Paralympic swimmer Moises Batista.
    We would be dropped off along the route, 200 meters apart. Just before the previous runner arrives, a guide walks you into the road and turns on the gas. Then the two torches "kiss" and the flame comes alive!
    We were told to run with our arm at a 90-degree angle: "It's great for the photos, because the torch will always be in the frame. Oh, and also that way, your hair won't catch on fire." Good to know.
    rio brazil torch run shasta darlington arwa damon von_00002428.jpg
    Arwa and I suited up in the white and gold uniforms and had some time to horse around with our CNN colleagues before heading to the van. Emails and messages were all repeating: "Don't drop the torch!"
    On the van, it really sank in what an honor it was to be participating in the relay.
    Our group of runners was selected by Coca Cola, an Olympic sponsor.
    One by one, they stood up and told their stories: a PE instructor from Brazil who taught karate in the local favela to get kids off the street, an aspiring gymnast, a man who had run seven marathons on seven continents in seven consecutive days.
    One man had to choke back tears as he told his story about working to provide nutritional meals in public schools.
    "For some of those kids, it's the only meal they'll have, " he said. "I know, because I was one of those kids when I was growing up."
    For both Arwa and myself, it was a reminder of how the Olympics really can be a force for good. And the torch relay is an opportunity not only to ignite enthusiasm for the Games but also to recognize contributions made by ordinary people every day.
    Finally we were dropped off at our positions. I was runner number 125, Arwa number 126. I felt like a movie star as dozens of onlookers asked for selfies -- of course, not having any clue who I was!
    Soon, the convoy of police and media appeared at the top of the hill. I was maneuvered into position, my fellow torch runner approached, a successful "kiss," and I was off!
    Those 200 meters flew by, with crowds lining the route, cameras flashing in the media van right in front of me.
    Then I saw Arwa ahead and, a little out of breath, passed her the Olympic flame.
    Now that is a moment I will remember.