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Olympic torchbearer hopes to share the inspiration : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Olympic torchbearer hopes to share the inspiration
Oswego hotel manager carried flame through small England town

by Matt Schury


If you see a close up shot of the Olympic Torch during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics Games in London tomorrow notice the holes.

Every torch is made with 8,000 holes, each representing one of the torchbearers in the relay throughout the United Kingdom. One of those holes is for Tom Kozlowicz of Yorkville.

Kozlowicz was a torchbearer for a leg of the relay that went from Birmingham to Coventry. He ran with the torch for 300 yards through the small English town of Chipping Campden.

Kozlowicz, 67, is an assistant manager at the Holiday Inn Express in Oswego. The Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), the British-based parent company of Holiday Inn, selected him to be a runner at the 2012 Olympic games in London this summer. He was one of just 16 other people selected by the corporation from the U.S. Out of a pool of 330,000 IHG employees worldwide, only 71 were selected to run in the torch relay.

Kozlowicz's impressive lifelong volunteer and community work put him on the list to be a torch runner.

He worked with the Volunteers in Service to America (now called AmeriCorps) when he graduated from college, serving two years on an Indian reservation in Utah. More recently he has volunteered and served on the resource counsel with Big Brothers Big Sisters for 12 years since he moved to Kendall County in 2000.

Kozlowicz also works with a vocational development program at Oswego East High School and Oswego High School.

He has run an after-care addiction treatment program for nine years at Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, helping people who have recently finished a 28-day addiction program.

Now he says he is going to use the Olympic torch and his tracksuit to inspire others that he works with.

Kozlowicz describes being a torchbearer as an "inspirational, religious-type" experience.

"It's the enthusiasm, it's the excitement-that's what you want to carry. It's not just a torch, it's not just a suit, it's that whole spirit," he said.

His mission now is to share the excitement and inspiration that he felt.

"If I don't do that--shame on me," he said.

Kozlowicz, along with his wife Roberta, made the trip to England in late June. He said he and the 16 other participants from the U.S. didn't feel worthy of carrying the torch.

"I saw what some of these people did and I said, 'Why the hell am I over here?'" Kozlowicz said. "Carrying the torch over there, representing the United States, truly I think it meant more than if I carried the torch over here in the United States."

On, July 1, the day of his torch relay, Kozlowicz recalls about 7,000 people lining the streets of the small town.

He waited on the bus with four other torchbearers running in the relay that day. Kozlowicz said he felt like a celebrity.

"Now the town is filled and we are on this bus waiting for the caravan from the other town with the lantern to light the flame at the beginning of the torch run," he said.

They were telling stories and bonding when the crowd took notice.

"All of a sudden these people are scrunched to the windows of the bus," he said. " I knew what it felt like to be an animal in the zoo."

People wanted to meet him and have their children take photos with him and the torch.

He was the last one to take the torch through Chipping Campden before it went to the next town.

Kozlowicz said that each torchbearer had their own torch. When the two torches meet and the flame is passed, it is called kissing, he explained.

Kozlowicz took over the relay from a, 35-year old woman from England who was wheelchair bound. She was a former gymnast who became a paraplegic after falling off a balance beam. She now trains athletes for the Paralympics Games, he says.

"When they lit the torch, they said you are going to feel something different than you ever felt (in your life)," he said.

Kozlowicz was skeptical of that remark but now understands.

"The feeling when I lit the torch-it was almost a euphoric feeling," he said. "In front of all of these people I didn't even realize what I was doing. It took me about a day and a half to actually recreate my run. I couldn't even describe it. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Realize your touching something that went back to 300 BC-300 BC and you are probably one in billions and billions of people that have ever had a chance to do this."

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