CINCINNATI (AP) - Kenyon Martin is to return to his adopted home on Monday evening carrying a torch.
The former University of Cincinnati basketball star is to run into a parking lot at Paul Brown Stadium shortly after sunset, bringing the Olympic flame to the football field atop a 3½-pound, icicle-shaped torch.
In coming weeks, nearly 500 Ohioans are expected to walk, jog or run across their appointed sliver of the state, ferrying the flame on its way to Salt Lake City and the Winter Games.
Few are as famous as Martin, now playing for the NBA's New Jersey Nets. All share the same feeling that made them quick to accept the chance.
"It's a great thing," said Martin, who was contacted by relay organizers. "I've seen it on TV, but I never thought they'd want me to do it."
The group that will carry the torch across Ohio is as diverse as the state itself. Some are athletes and some don't follow sports. Teen-agers will pass the flame to retirees. Each will carry the flame for a few unforgettable minutes.
"It's a mind-boggling thing to me," said Donald Krafczinski of New London, who has been assigned a segment of 11th Avenue in Columbus. "I really don't think I know the magnitude of it. "One of the first communications I got from the Olympic organizers said that what we do is carry it for two-tenths of a mile. What's stuck in my mind is: During that two-tenths of a mile, you're it."
The torch started a zigzagging, cross-country trip on Dec. 4 in Atlanta. It is expected to reach Cincinnati on Monday, then get ferried along the Ohio River to Portsmouth and into West Virginia.
From there, it will travel across Pennsylvania and on to the East Coast, loop around, follow the Great Lakes and return to northern Ohio on Jan. 1. From Cleveland, it will get ferried to Columbus and Dayton, then move into Indiana.
The torchbearers were nominated by family, friends and co-workers, who wrote short essays on their behalf. Roughly 11,500 were chosen from 210,000 nominations in 46 states.
Many didn't know about it until they got word from Olympic organizers that they'd been chosen. Once notified, they started getting ready for the unexpected honor.
"I never, ever thought or dreamt in this world that I would be carrying an Olympic torch," said Ray Gleason of suburban Cincinnati, a wounded war veteran. "That was for somebody else. I just can't wait."
Gleason, a Marine, was shot in the head while serving in Vietnam, leaving him temporarily paralyzed and unable to speak for two years. He has needed a cane since he broke a hip about 10 years ago, but has been walking up and down his street to build up his strength.
"I walk with a cane, but I'm going to give it up for the torch," he said. "I'm sure I'm going to make it - no doubt about it."
Krafczinski, a retired autoworker from Cleveland, isn't much of a sports fan, but likes to walk his rural road to keep in shape.
Those walks have taken on extra significance lately.
"I go out with a shepherd's crook," said Krafczinski, who's active in the Methodist Church. "The crook is about 6 feet tall. The torch weighs about 3½ pounds, so the crook is about the same weight."
The torch will have personal significance for Becky Jasontek, a Loveland native who was a synchronized swimmer at Ohio State through 1997. She was in line to make the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, but emergency surgery relegated her to an alternate.
She went to Sydney and watched the games, enjoying the experience but wishing she could compete. Jasontek is striving to make the 2004 games in Athens.
"I understand the hard work that it takes to get to the Olympic level, the dedication and especially the sacrifice involved," she said. "It's going to mean a lot more to me."
Cancer survivor Mary Bowermaster of Fairfield plans to run her two-tenths of a mile, just as she does her early morning workouts. At age 84, she's one of the older torchbearers in Ohio.
"I work out at the track three times a week, rain or shine," she said.
Bowermaster got involved in sports after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978. She fell in love with track and field, and soon was running sprints, throwing the javelin and the discuss and shot, and working on her high jump in senior track meets.
Bowermaster, who proudly notes she can run 100 meters in 17 to 19 seconds, was elated to learn she would get to go a longer distance with an Olympic torch.
"It's one of the highlights of everything I've done," she said. "I'm running the torch for the people who lost their lives on Sept. 11, for my family and friends, and for cancer survivors.
"And, I'm going for my own satisfaction."
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)