July 3, 2012

USOC Affected by Fires in Colorado Springs - by Curt Tomasevicz

Over 346 houses burned to the ground last week in Colorado Springs. The city is used to hot and dry summers, but this year there is more of a need for rain than ever. Thousands of acres of trees and shrubs erupted in flames over just a few days to spread through the Garden of the Gods north to the Air Force Academy on the west side of Colorado Springs. Over thirty thousand people were evacuated from their homes and that number is still growing. Included in that thirty thousand people were several members of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) family. Colorado Springs has served as the home for the USOC since the early 1970’s. Since then the USOC has grown to employ hundreds of people and sadly several of them were part of the evacuation.

This past week the U.S. Olympic Training Center, which typically houses many of the country’s elite athletes including Michael Phelps and other London-bound summer athletes, became a refuge site for most of the USOC employees looking for a temporary home. Families with children young and old (even an infant two weeks old) were seen living in the dorms alongside America’s Olympic medal hopefuls. Even pets were allowed in the dorms until a better suited place could be found.

As the new residents of the OTC tried to make the best of the situation and settle in for an unknown amount of time, the fire at the base of the mountains slowly spread. People were glued to the TV around the clock to see the destruction done and to see if the weather will cooperate soon. We desperately needed more rain and less wind.

As I grew up in central Nebraska, I’ve been through several tornado warnings. I’ve even seen the destruction that a tornado can cause to corn fields, pivots, grain bins, and houses. That tense, eerie feeling that comes on those spring nights in Nebraska when the hot days suddenly turn cold and the tornado warnings are issued, could be felt again in Colorado. This time the sudden tornado warnings were replaced by evacuations as the fire spread. It was the same type of worry and panic that could be seen on people’s faces when they had to sit and wait as an uncontrollable force determined the future of their possessions.

Even those not directly affected by the flames suffered. In fact, I chose to spend a week or so back in my hometown of Shelby, NE to wait for the smoky haze to clear the city. The smell and the dirty air made training difficult.

But I was proud to watch as people volunteered and offered their homes (or dorm rooms) to people evacuated from the hazard areas. The Olympic Training Center’s focus turned from winning medals to helping lives. As the fire continued, some people were relieved to hear their houses were safe, but unfortunately, not everyone received the same news.

But I have faith that as long as the residents of Colorado Springs continue to support and welcome the employees of the U.S. Olympic Committee, our goal can once again eventually return to winning medals at the next Olympics.

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