Tom Kozlowicz calls it the greatest honor he can imagine.
On Thursday, this Yorkville resident and Oswego hotel manager will board a plane for Heathrow Airport in London. And on Sunday, he’ll become one of only 18 Americans to carry the 2012 Olympic torch.
As you might expect, he’s excited. On Tuesday, he spread that excitement to members of the Greater Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, breathlessly relating the details of his selection for the torch relay, and rattling off facts about the Olympics. (The first Olympic torch relay was held in 1936, for instance.)
And he brought a paper and cardboard replica of the torch, made for him by a young friend, and proudly showed it off.
Kozlowicz, 67, is a manager at the in Oswego, and Holiday Inn’s parent company, the International Hotel Group, is a housing sponsor for the London Olympics. The company was offered 71 of the 8,000 slots in this year’s torchbearer relay.
Kozlowicz was nominated for one of them by his boss, Anita Patel. The nomination form, which she filled out in September, asked for only 250 words about how Kozlowicz has inspired others, and she said that was not enough. Kozlowicz is active in numerous organizations, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, for which he serves as president of the local organization’s resource council.
But more than just that, she said, Kozlowicz is simply an inspirational person to those who know him and work with him. She found that a difficult concept to condense for the form.
“We put in what we could, and left the rest to chance,” she said.
Kozlowicz got the call around Thanksgiving to tell him he had made the shortlist of 71 nominees, he said. At around the same time, he was relieved to discover that a cancer scare was just that: a scare. It was a thankful holiday season all around for him, he said.
It wasn’t until February that Kozlowicz learned he had a confirmed spot in the relay. He will get his chance to carry the torch on Sunday, July 1, the 44th day of the relay, although he will not know what time his part of the run starts until 24 hours before. But he knows that he will have the torch for 300 yards through Birmingham, and since the flame is passed, not the torch itself, he’ll get to keep it.
Kozlowicz said 95 percent of the runners this year are from England, and he’s proud to represent the United States. He’ll be wearing the mandated Olympic uniform, but he’s allowed to choose his own shoes. So he visited in Yorkville, and convinced them to give him a pair of red, white and blue running shoes.
And Kozlowicz touted the connections he’s made through the Montgomery chamber. That’s where he met Barry Croall, who works to prevent identity theft as a Legalshield associate. Croall was born in England, and his parents live there. So with one phone call, he arranged for his father to pick Kozlowicz up at the airport, and drive him to Birmingham, stopping to see the sights along the way.
The torch relay began its wind through the United Kingdom on May 18, and will travel through more than 1,000 towns and cities in England, Ireland and Scotland. The relay will take 70 days to complete.
Being part of a tradition that stretches back centuries, and part of a massive undertaking that spans continents, has Kozlowicz understandably giddy. On Tuesday, he expressed gratitude and awe again and again, saying he appreciates this chance more than he can say.
“It’s one of the most incredible and humbling opportunities anyone could ever have,” he said. “It’s the experience of a lifetime.”
Kozlowicz has agreed to blog for Patch from England. You’ll be able to follow his adventures right here, and see his part of the torch relay by logging on to www.bbc.co.uk/torchrelay.