"As I looked up at the camera and I'm running with the torch, I thought to myself 'I am the only one in the world doing this right now'."
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For Parkes school teacher Maureen Massey, the memories of her carrying the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch that day are still as vivid as they were 20 years ago.
On Friday, August 18, 2000 the Olympic Torch made its way through Parkes during the last stages of its global journey, staying over night and leaving the next morning down Henry Parkes Way.
Of course a monumental visit called for a monumental celebration.
About 7000 people lined Clarinda Street that afternoon to watch the Olympic Street Parade featuring 50 floats each representing a sport and more than 10,000 gathered at Pioneer Oval for an evening of performances, involving 500 students - all culminating in the arrival of the Olympic flame and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by local funeral director Bob Cocks and triple Olympian Stephen Davies from Parkes.
The torch also made a trip to the Parkes Radio Telescope where then mayor Robert Wilson OAM took the flame high into the air while standing on the Dish's surface.
It was the only time - apart from the Opera House - the flame ventured 'off the beaten track' for a special promotion.
The Parkes Champion Post reported in the next edition after the flame travelled through the town (Monday, August 21, 2000) "the sense of pride and occasion will last a lifetime".
Just ask anyone who was there and the thousands of torch bearers like Maureen, who was 49 years old at the time.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," she said.
The experience was made even more meaningful given the torch came through the region ahead of Daffodil Day on August 28, the cancer awareness day.
Maureen had breast cancer at 38.
Her daughters were those who nominated her for the Torch Relay, referencing her teaching, community service and involvement in hockey as a player and coach, "all the while overcoming breast cancer with three young children", as the reasons Maureen would be worthy for the job.
Initially Maureen hadn't been selected in the 5000 community torch bearers but a decision to increase the number by 1000 saw her and our now current mayor Cr Ken Keith OAM among those named.
"I collected the mail... I flew in here like a bat out of hell saying 'I'm in, I'm in'!" Maureen said.
"It's something I'll never forget."
Though Maureen didn't get to carry the torch through Parkes - instead running the 500m at a chilly 8.16am in Cowra - she said it was a huge honour all the same.
"The relay was run with military precision... The torch only had 20 minutes of fuel and there were two police officers and escort runners by my side," she said.
"I was so overwhelmed... Just the adrenaline, I had my family running alongside taking photos."
Afterwards Maureen headed for Parkes as fast as she could since she was heavily involved with Parkes East Public School in the town's celebrations.
Parkes East had the handball float in the parade and performed 'the Olympics through the ages' piece, beginning with Greece, on stage at Pioneer Oval.
Maureen and other teachers and parents almost made everything from scratch and it took several months of preparation.
"It was huge and a lot of preparation," she said.
"It's a very treasured memory."
Along with the special memories, Maureen has an extensive memorabilia collection from the Torch Relay, including the very torch she carried bearing her unique number of 007, one of the flags that hung in Clarinda Street, pins, photos and books.
Every torch bearer had the opportunity to buy their torch, at the time costing $374.
"You take the good with the bad, that's why this all means so much to me," Maureen said.
"How many times do you get to do something like this?"
Ever since Maureen's involvement in the relay, Parkes East has hosted its own mini Olympics every four years, which began in 2004.
"We would have done it this year if it wasn't for COVID," she said.
"Every time I'd put on my uniform and carry the torch - it's all just to show the kids what it's all about."
Maureen is very much embedded into the Parkes East School community, having been a full time teacher there since 1992. But her involvement with the school, as a mother, extends back to 1980.
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