UCSC cancer survivor will carry the Olympic torch January 18

Elizabeth Conerly was a broke UC Berkeley student as Mother's Day approached last year, but being penniless inspired her to give the best gift ever: Conerly nominated her mother, Trish Virgadamo, a longtime UCSC employee, to carry the Olympic torch on a segment of its cross-country journey to Salt Lake City.

The nomination, and the news that she was selected from more than 200,000 nominees, still stuns Virgadamo, who will carry the torch along a portion of West Cliff Drive on Friday, January 18.

"It was the greatest Mother's Day gift in the world," said Virgadamo, a UCSC benefits representative. "This is the biggest thrill and honor of my life."

It wasn't that long ago that Virgadamo and her family weren't sure she would ever run again. Virgadamo, who began running with Conerly, 22, and her sister Melissa, 24, when the girls were on the Santa Cruz High School track team, was sidelined in 1994-95 by Hodgkins lymphoma. Virgadamo was off work for 11 months, and though she beat the cancer, her lungs were scarred by the radiation treatment and she hasn't run since. In her nomination letter, Conerly, who graduated last month, cited her mother's courage and determination during the illness.

"She is so positive," Conerly said of her mother. "Even when she was sick, she stood up and fought it and didn't let it get her down. Through all of it, she was there for my sister and me, getting even more involved in our lives. It was just beyond belief."

Virgadamo's determination is evident in her desire to run her .2-mile segment of the relay Friday morning. "I used to walk along West Cliff every lunch hour before I got sick, and I ran several races there," said Virgadamo, whose family and friends will line the route to cheer her on.

Virgadamo is one of 66 local torchbearers participating in the Monterey/Seaside portion of the relay. Two days earlier, on January 16, UCSC freshman Paul Stanfield will carry the Olympic flame in San Luis Obispo.


Editor's Note: Virgadamo will carry the torch on West Cliff Drive between David and Columbia streets. Her segment is scheduled to begin at 7:50 a.m. She can be reached at (831) 459-3993 or via email at ptv@cats.ucsc.edu.