January 21, 2002
Woodinville brothers to carry Olympic flame in Torch Relay
by Deborah Stone
The Olympic Torch Relay has been a tradition since 1952, originating from an idea by a chairman of the 1936 Berlin Games.
The event symbolizes spirit, knowledge and life and involves thousands of people helping to deliver the Olympic flame from Greece to the host country. The flame of the 2002 Winter Games was lit Nov. 19, 2001, in Olympia, Greece, and then it traveled to Athens, Greece, before arriving in Atlanta, Ga., the previous U.S. city to host the Olympic Games.
It left Atlanta on Dec. 4 on a journey headed to Salt Lake City for the official start of the 2002 Winter Games beginning on Feb. 8. More than 11,500 torchbearers are helping to carry the Olympic Flame through 250 U.S. cities and 46 states, each bearer running or walking approximately a 0.2-mile section on the route. The torch itself symbolizes Olympians' passion for competition and victory and those chosen to carry it are representative of many walks of life, each with his/her own inspirational story.
Months ago, Chevrolet, the sponsor of the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay, gave the public a chance to nominate individuals for torchbearers by submitting a short essay describing how the candidates inspired others.
Lynn Cleland, long-time resident of Woodinville, submitted the names of his two sons, Ryan, 27 years old, and Jeremy, 26, both WHS graduates.
As teens, both boys spent five years training in Lake Placid, New York, to become Olympic lugers. They eventually made the Junior National Olympic Team and won nine medals between the two of them, but their careers ended after Ryan suffered a back injury and had to have surgery.
"I nominated my sons because of all their hard work and dedication towards the Olympics," explains Cleland. "They were so focused at such a young age and had such determination and drive. Both of them were fully committed toward going for the gold and even though they fell short in achieving their goal, the experience of training and competing was an amazing opportunity for them.
"They worked with some of the best coaches, had contact with other committed and outstanding athletes and traveled the world doing the sport they loved most. I am proud of them and I think they represent the qualities that symbolize the spirit of the Olympics."
Ryan and Jeremy got into luging in 1989 on a whim, after seeing a television ad sponsored by the U.S. Luge Association.
The association was looking to draw athletes from a bigger pool to train to become lugers. For those interested, it meant a trip to Salt Lake City for some trial runs on wheeled sleds.
The Cleland boys, with encouragement from their parents, decided it would be fun to make the trip and investigate the situation. Neither of them had ever been on a luge and they knew very little about the sport.
" It was pretty clear that they were looking for physical ability and aptitude at these initial try-outs" explains Jeremy. "There were about 1,000 kids there and after the try-outs, 60 were invited to come back to try sliding on ice.
"Ryan and I got to go back and then we found out how much fun it was to luge. After the second try-out, we went home, and then later we each received letters inviting us to slide for a development team, based at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. We were pretty jazzed, as they had chosen only 10 from the 60."
The brothers proceeded to spend about six to eight months a year for the next five years in Lake Placid training on the average of seven hours a day. When they began, they were only 13 and 14 years old, living away from home in dorms and experiencing the mental and physical challenges of becoming elite competitive athletes.
When they were home, they would cram almost a year's schoolwork into three months and then while in Lake Placid, they would be tutored for one hour each day.
"The focus, of course, was on luging and physical conditioning," says Jeremy. "My body was in the finest form ever and I pushed myself to the limits. The whole experience gave me a lot of character and taught me perseverance and tenacity."
Both boys enjoyed the fierce competition and being able to travel different places both in the U.S. and around the world.
"I look back now," comments Ryan, "and I can really appreciate the experiences more now that I'm older. It was such a unique experience and I feel lucky to have been able to have it. One of the things I got out of it was a respect for the effort it takes to succeed as an elite athlete. I also developed a respect for other countries and their cultures and I realized that I took a lot for granted about my own country."
Living among elite athletes was not always a comfortable experience for the pair. They were surrounded by individuals with enormous drives and some with larger-than-life egos. Jeremy comments, "Some of them had big heads and basically it wasn't easy to form close relationships with them. It's also because you're all competing against one another in the same sport. It was easier to get close to athletes involved in training for other sports, like the bobsledders, skaters and ski jumpers."
Flying down a luge track at speeds upwards of 80 miles an hour definitely gets the adrenaline flowing, but according to the brothers, speed isn't everything.
"Luging is viewed as a yahoo sport," says Ryan, "but it's really more about keeping relaxed at all times and keeping a good head on your shoulders. Sure you're nervous and have some fears, but you can't let the anxiety get to you or else it will affect your run."
The two eventually got to do some double luging, working as a team together in one luge, but they didn't perform as well as when they were doing singles.
In their last year at Lake Placid, they made the Junior National Team, but after that year, they made the decision to quit the sport and return home. "I was 17 and Ryan was 18," explains Jeremy "and we each came to the same decision separately. After Ryan got injured (not from luging), it was pretty much a done deal for him. For me, it was eventually the monotony of the schedule that got to me and the feeling that I didn't really have a normal life, going to school only one or two months a year. It was also a big money investment for our family (it costs approximately $30,000 a year to train at Lake Placid) and once Ryan got injured and I knew he wasn't coming back, I realized that it was a good stopping point for me. It was a tough decision, but I don't regret it."
It was weird for the Cleland brothers to return to normalcy and the lives of typical teenagers back in Woodinville. Their focus had been on the Olympics for five years and now they lacked direction. Eventually, they adjusted and graduated high school, went on to various jobs and continued their education.
Currently, Ryan works for quality control at Eden BioScience, is married and expecting his first child next month. Jeremy attends Cascadia Community College part-time and works at Eastside Harley Davidson. His passion is racing motorcycles. "I've just exchanged one vehicle for another!" he comments. For both men, being an Olympic Torchbearer is an incredible honor. They will participate in the event on January 23rd when the torch comes to Seattle. Jeremy will run a section of the route on University Way and Ryan will run a portion of it on Stone Way. They will be attired in special white Olympic garb and cheered on by their family and friends. "It is such a prestigious honor," says Jeremy. "I love the spirit of the Olympics and to be able to participate at this level is great." Ryan agrees and comments, "It's just such a special honor, a great opportunity for me to show my respect for the Games." Jeremy and several other members of his family, including his father, will also attend the Games in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, Ryan will be unable to join them because he will be awaiting the birth of his child. Rest assured, he will hear all about the experience from the others and will tune in to the television nightly to catch coverage of the events. Both brothers are excited to see how a few of their old teammates do in the luge. "I know I'll feel a twinge of regret when I see them," says Ryan, "because I will be thinking that it might have been me up there, but I'll be rooting them on, hoping they will do well for the U.S." For Lynn Cleland, it will be an honor to watch his two sons participate. "I'm just so happy that both of them were chosen, but I know if only one of them had been selected, he would have immediately offered it to the other one. That's just the kind of relationship they have. This way, they both can go and share the experience and bring closure to that part of their lives."