She Walks Miles, But in One City Block Realizes a Dream

by Amy Madsen on Tue, 2008-07-01 12:15
Lorri Coppola
Despite ALS, Lorri Coppola continues to train, walking a mile a day, three days a week, usually at the College of Marin close to her Greenbrae apartment. Photo by Shirley Pierce.

Lorri Coppola learned in 2005 she has bulbar-onset ALS. Although the disease has stripped away her ability to speak and eat, she continues to walk one mile, three days a week, to keep her legs strong.

Coppola, 68, from Greenbrae, Calif., taught physical education and coached middle school track for 33 years. A champion racewalker, she earned gold medals in 10-km and 5-km events in two World Masters racewalking competitions (1995 and 1998). She also has officiated at college track meets for the last 12 years, and, since 1976, has attended three Summer Olympics as a spectator.

This April, however, Coppola realized her own Olympic dream when she carried the Beijing Olympic Torch in the relay run through the protester-filled streets of San Francisco, the only North American stop for the widely recognized Olympic symbol. (The protests were against China’s human rights record, especially in Tibet.)

To be selected as a participant in the run, Coppola wrote an essay describing her love of the Olympics and her history as a World Masters athlete, PE instructor and coach. When she learned she would be a torchbearer, she was thrilled to do it “for the athletes who work so hard to attain that [Olympic] goal, and also to bring attention to ALS.”

Assigned to run in pairs, Coppola found herself teamed up with Olympian Chris Duplanty, who competed for the United States in several Olympics water polo events. After a last-minute route change aimed at avoiding confrontations with protesters, the two carried the torch down a block of Van Ness Avenue.

“I was crying,” Coppola said. “Some of the police thought I was scared — [but] no, I was just overwhelmed.”

Coppola’s three-miles-a-week training served her well, although she said she wanted to jog, “but the media truck in front of us was so slow we ended up walking.”

As someone with a love of athleticism and competition, Coppola found it exciting to be a torchbearer and to meet the many Olympians who participated in the relay with her. As someone with ALS, she recognizes how fortunate she was to achieve her dream.

“I’m proud to have been a part of the relay and to bring attention to ALS,” she said, noting the numerous newspaper, television and radio stories produced about her.

“Life is good — now back to reality.”

Amy Madsen
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