It’s not very hard to find me at the Olympic Training Center. If my door’s closed, if I’m not in the dining hall, and I’m not in the Athletes’ Lounge, chances are you’ll find me at the Torch. It’s one of the most scenic places on complex, with an incredible view of Pikes Peak and the surrounding area.
On Saturday, we first saw a column of black smoke shooting up over the ridge, our first sign of the fire. A few hours later, while on a video shoot, we learned that it had been named the Waldo Canyon Fire, and was about ten miles from us. Over the past few days, we’ve seen the clouds grow and grow and the smell of smoke intensify with the shifting winds.
From the Torch, I’ve watched the sun set the past few nights, and once it gets dark, you can see the flames come over the ridge. I don’t have the best eyesight, so for me to see the actual flames about five miles away, you know they’re quite close. It’s been beautiful and terrifying at the same time, but it’s definitely a new experience. I’ve never seen flames before in person, so to watch them coming over the mountain has me at a loss for words. Watching them the past few nights was fine, seeing them burn trees and rocks and mountainside. But tonight, watching them burn through buildings and homes from the top of the Torch was something totally different, totally painful.
One of the worst parts has been the smoke. We’ve gotten quite used to it over the past three days, but you smell it inside the buildings, on your clothes, and absolutely everywhere. We ran our fourth 5K today, and we made sure to walk the entire thing and drink plenty of water, cautious of the 102-degree temperatures and debilitating smoky haze.
While the Waldo Canyon Fire’s been devastating, the most hopeful thing has been the OTC opening its doors to employees and their families to stay here with us. Increasingly, we’ve seen coworkers, small children, and friends joining us for meals and in the halls. We’ve seen their smiles as they unload and move into college-style dorms, just thankful to be safe. A huge, sweeping wildfire isn’t exactly what the city of Colorado Springs was expecting, but in a few short days, it has dominated our conversation and defined our experience.
The Olympic movement’s this great mantra of togetherness and cooperation, but the USOC has really embodied and modeled that these past few days. We get multiple emails an hour of coworkers opening up their homes and offering support. We get emails from the leaders of the organization, telling us to do whatever it is we have to do to stay safe and help out. It’s lots of smiles, lots of hugs, lots of family around the OTC right now. Everyone’s stepping up to help. We know more of the 36,000 evacuees are coming, and so we’re praying for the best and taking solace that the OTC, right now, is the safe haven in the city.
We’re saying our prayers tonight.