Sunday, July 22, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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In the months spent training leading up to her London 2012 Olympic moment, Debra Toney told herself she was going to savor her time in the spotlight.
But as a runner carrying the Olympic torch passed the flame to her this month in a small English town, Toney took off like a sprinter competing in the games.
“The adrenaline kicked in and took over, so I ran,” the Las Vegas-based nurse said. “I was overwhelmed. I was trying to make sure I didn’t trip or drop the torch.”
For 300 meters, Toney carried the torch through Kirtlington, Oxfordshire, about 65 miles northwest of London, as a throng of thousands of screaming, flag-waving fans cheered her on.
“It was really an awesome experience,” she said. “I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me, but they totally embraced (the runners).”
Toney has returned to Las Vegas, extinguished torch in hand, where she is an active community volunteer and director of nursing for the Nevada Health Centers. She said she’s looking forward to sharing her experience with the community, especially children.
In all, 8,000 runners will carry the Olympic torch through 1,019 communities in the United Kingdom, with the 70-day relay ending July 27 at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting,” Toney, 56, said before she left for England. “It’s an awesome, unbelievable feeling. ... I’m a regular person. This could have been anybody.”
But to the friends and colleagues who recommended Toney to be a torchbearer, the honor is recognition for her efforts serving the community.
A nurse for more than 30 years, the Oklahoma-born Toney recently served as the president of the National Black Nurses Association and is a member of the National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s Health Advisory Committee.
Toney and 21 other runners were selected to be torchbearers through a program sponsored by Coca-Cola that recognizes those who show “personal and professional dedication to promoting healthy lifestyles and for empowering civic engagement in communities,” according to the company.
Toney said meeting the other torch runners inspired her to keep up her volunteer efforts and gave her new ideas to improve her community.
“I had an opportunity to meet the other individuals who were carrying the torch. To spend time with them and hear their amazing stories gave me an extra boost,” she said. “It gives you that added drive to do more.”
Toney plans to follow the games closely.
“I’m excited to watch the games. I love the opening ceremonies, everything about it,” she said. “Just to watch the athletes do things you can’t even imagine. I always think about how much dedication and commitment to living a healthy lifestyle that takes.”