Cyclist's fans are a class act

Fourth-graders root for their favorite Olympian, a familiar sight on his yellow bike.

September 27, 2000|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

Here are some words and phrases Erica Steele's fourth-graders at Spring Gardens Elementary School cut out of magazines last week to describe one of their neighbors in Hampstead:

Simply striking.

Miracle, as in it's a miracle that Brian Walton qualified for the Olympics.

Dream, as in dream come true.

Prepared. Mighty. Super, because he is a super role model. Ultimate. Champion. Smart. Amazing.

Adventure, because in Australia, he might ride past a kangaroo.

I am important - because he is important to his native Canada and to Hampstead, where he has lived since marrying an American and fellow cyclist a few years ago.

Fan - because he has millions of them in Canada, and in America, at least 28 kids.

Until last summer, Walton, 35, was nothing more than a tall, skinny bicyclist sometimes seen closely following a Saturn around town. Then Mrs. Steele, running the math camp Olympics, heard from a part-time teacher Dana Walton that her husband was training for the games in Australia.

Had the campers seen him in their neighborhoods? "Oh, yeah! He's an Olympic athlete?"

Soon, kids were passing around Brian Walton's silver medal from the 1996 games in Atlanta and quizzing him about how many Saturns he could buy for the price of his yellow bicycle. (Four!)

Before he left for Sydney, they gave him a T-shirt covered with their names.

Now the ground Walton rides has become sacred to Steele's students. Some have been glued to the TV since Opening Ceremonies. Under his Canadian uniform, the children learned, Walton wore his T-shirt from the Hampstead kids.

Excitement built last week when Walton placed ninth in a time trial. Tomorrow's homework: to watch the men's road race.

The children can't imagine actually being an Olympian, but they've learned what it takes to become one:

Dedication, as in riding a bike all day.

Determination, as in never giving up.

Encouragement.

Tonight, Ernest Duldulao says, Brian Walton is "probably thinking about how to encourage himself."

Or, maybe, rubbing his lucky T-shirt.

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