Olympic torchbearer a York student and cancer survivor

First-year York student Danielle Brown has a dream of one day competing in the Olympics, and although that dream is on hold while she struggles with the aftermath of cancer, her track-star ambitions took a surprisingly nimble turn recently. Brown had the opportunity to run 300 metres through the Town of Markham carrying the Olympic torch as one of 12,000 torchbearers who passed the icon from one hand to the next as the flame crossed the country.

Running on a clear, crisp December morning, the torch clasped in both hands, was a small taste of Olympic glory for this communications and French studies student. “It was really surreal. After I did it, I was like, ‘Wow did I really do that?’” says Brown. It was the first time she had moved faster than a walk since being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer – ovarian dysgerminoma – at the age of 15. Now 18, Brown has undergone surgery and chemotherapy. She has been in remission for two years.

Left: York communications and French studies student Danielle Brown holds the Olympic torch as one of the chosen torchbearers for this year’s Olympic Games. Photo by Franklin Brown.

She’s not sure if her aspiration of competing in one of the Olympic track events is still feasible. “It’s a matter of having the strength and time to do it, as I would have to start from scratch,” says Brown. And she is still weak from her ordeal with cancer, and from being diagnosed with hyperthyroidism last year. But one thing is sure, her love for the sport will always remain strong. “Running was my outlet. When I ran I had a sense of freedom. Nothing mattered,” says Brown.

She was so pumped for the Olympic torch run that she was oblivious to the cheers of support from her mother standing on the sidelines and the frantic clicking of the camera by her father. She was in a world of her own as she ran down Main Street, turned onto Highway 7 and over to Robinson Creek, where she passed the torch to the next runner like a baton in a relay race.

The 4-by-100 relay and the 100-metre and 200-metre sprints were the event Brown competed in at the high-school level. In Grade 9, she was sent with her team to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championship. It was there that she garnered the attention of coaches who told her mother she had potential. One thing led to another and Brown joined a track club so she could receive better training and coaching, but not long after, she realized something was terribly wrong.

“I was at practice one day at York on the inside track. I finished all my laps and I was really exhausted, more than I had been before,” says Brown. Then the coach told everyone to do 50 sit-ups, which was normally no problem for Brown, but this day she could barely finish 20. “I got this really sharp pain in my abdomen and I couldn’t move. I was numb.”

That was the beginning of a nightmare from which Brown has emerged with a whole different outlook on life. “Surviving the cancer gave me the drive to pursue what is important to me in life,” she says.

Her Olympic moment came about after Brown applied for a scholarship to attend university from the Black Business & Professional Association (BBPA) and was chosen to fill one of the three torchbearer spots given to the BBPA by the Royal Bank of Canada, a co-presenting sponsor of the Olympic Torch Relay.

It was the most exciting news she could have imagined. “I was just so shocked and overwhelmed.” It was like the Olympic fairy had touched her on the shoulder with her magic wand. And the best part was that it was completely unexpected.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer