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Carrying the torch

Carrying the torch

A fleeting moment transforms into a life-long message about the value of sports

In 1996, Sharon Evers' love for the Olympics reached new heights as she carried the famous torch toward its destination in Atlanta.

Posted 2:03 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, 2024

If being a fan of the Olympics was a competitive sport, UWL alumna Sharon Evers would have the gold.  

Evers, ’60, recites stats dating back to the 1936 Games, has memorized dozens of stories from Olympian autobiographies and continues to amass a collection of thousands of Olympic pins, plush toys, patches and more. The excitement in her voice is palpable as she recalls meeting Olympians, taking photos with them and cheering them on in competitions since she was a kid.  

This Olympic-sized love of the Olympics is why Evers became known as the “Olympic Lady” in her hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, and they rallied around her to carry the Olympic torch leading up to the 1996 Atlanta Games. As the relay zigzagged across the United States, covering thousands of communities from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Evers, 57 at the time, ran her six-tenths of a mile on Chapman Highway near Knoxville. She was a pre-school assistant teacher and many of her 4-year-old friends came to cheer her on at the sidelines, perched on their parents’ shoulders.  

“I waved, and they were yelling and waving to me,” recalls Evers. “It was heartwarming." 

But Evers hasn’t let that one moment pass by fleetingly. In the years since, she’s shared her experience with 50 or more school classrooms, churches, nursing homes and other groups. Her message is not so much about the feat of carrying a three-pound weight above her head or the entourage of police vehicles, onlookers and camera crews marking her relay route. Instead, what she shares is the story of what the Olympics represents — enduring athleticism, the struggle to reach goals and coming together despite differences.

Sharon (Foote) Evers, '60 & '65, pictured with her father, Clifford Foote, in front of Grandview Dorm where Evers lived in May 1958. Evers developed her love of sports from her parents.

All these things speak to who Sharon Evers is. They speak to her love of sports ingrained at a young age when she and her father would read the sports section of the paper together at the breakfast table. And they speak to her background in physical education at UWL, which propelled her into a career teaching children about the importance of incorporating movement into their lives — whether it was seventh-graders in Guam or high school students in suburban Chicago. 

"I just wanted to instill the love of motion that my dad gave to me,” she says. “He was always saying let’s play catch, let’s go bowling or let’s play golf. That was such a wonderful relationship, and I saw how sports bring people together." 

Back in the 1950s it was not common for women to attend college. Evers defied family expectations by becoming the first woman in her family to go. Despite doubts from some extended members about her academic abilities, she double-majored in English and physical education, earned a master’s degree, and immersed herself in campus life. She participated in the Catalina Club, Orchesis dance club, synchronized swimming, Women’s Recreation Association, and even became a pom-pom girl her senior year.  

She proved she was not only an athlete, but also a scholar. And, with her lifelong dedication to educating people about the value of movement and sport, she has carried the torch for her alma mater, too. She has shared the university's founding philosophy of training the whole person — mind and body. 

About the torch  

The Olympic torch is lit in Olympia, Greece. One of the most recognizable and sacred images of the Olympic movement, it announces the Games and spreads a message of peace and friendship between people. From there, the Flame is carried for a number of weeks to the host city for the Olympic Games, mainly by runners, but other forms of transportation like planes are used as well. The next Olympic Games will be held this summer in Paris, France. 

See Evers Olympic Torch and more Olympic memorabilitia she has donated at UWL Murphy Library Special Collections. 


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