MSU Professor Emeritus, Stroke Victim
Selected to Carry Olympic Torch
by Annette Trinity-Stevens
When nominations first opened for torchbearers in the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay, Leslie Schmidt said
a name popped into her head within seconds: Gordon McFeters.
Torchbearers are chosen for their inspiration to others, and perhaps no one has inspired Schmidt
more than McFeters who, after suffering a major stroke three years ago, recovered enough to resume
some of the outdoor activities he so dearly loved.
"I've often thought, 'What if something like that happened to me and I wasn't able to participate
in life at this level'," said Schmidt, who runs between 20 and 30 miles a week and skis and hikes.
McFeters, she realized, is a model of optimism and perseverance.
"He keeps on going and surpasses everyone's expectations," said Schmidt, who is the assistant vice
president for research at Montana State University in Bozeman. "He's done an amazing job of rebuilding
Currently a professor emeritus at MSU, McFeters, 62, taught microbiology for 32 years and headed an
active, award-winning research program on food- and waterborne microbes that can cause disease.
An avid runner who once completed a Boston Marathon, McFeters also was a member of the ski patrol at
Bridger Bowl, a champion telemark skier and a glider pilot.
But after his stroke in June 1998, McFeters was wheelchair-bound and unable to speak.
"His doctors said he probably wouldn't walk again,² recalled MSU associate research professor Barry Pyle.
Within a few months, however, McFeters wasn't using the wheelchair his doctors said he would always
need. He was walking with a cane, one leg in a brace and his right arm in a sling. Before long he was
back on campus, visiting his lab and keeping up with the research but no longer teaching.
Three years after the stroke, McFeters still can't speak except to utter "yup" and "nope." But he has
resumed some of his outdoor pursuits such as hiking to the "M," catching fish with a left-handed fly
rod, snowshoeing and camping. Three days a week he lifts weights in the MSU weight room.
Next January 27 or 28, McFeters will have a turn carrying the Olympic torch two-tenths of a mile somewhere
in southwestern Montana along the torch's 13,500-mile journey across the U.S. The torch will arrive in Salt
Lake City for the beginning of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games starting Feb. 8.
If the terrain is smooth, McFeters likely will walk unaided with the torch, said his wife Lois. If there's
snow or ice he may use his cane or walk alongside an assistant who will carry the torch.
"He's determined he's going to do it, so he will," said Lois McFeters. "He's ho-hum about the whole thing.
But I think he's pleased. He's just modest."
Schmidt, herself selected as a torchbearer, said people aren't chosen for their fitness level but for
their ability to motivate others and to overcome adversity.
"It would be easy in his situation to feel sorry for oneself," she commented. "But he perseveres and
that perseverance is really what embodies the Olympic spirit."
Others, too, marvel at McFeters' tenacity and optimism.
"He's always worked very hard," said Pyle. "I think this shows that even though we are dealt blows that
are hard on us we can still enjoy life."
Said another co-worker, Susan Broadaway: "I think the thing that's so inspirational is that even though
this is a small challenge he's still pursuing those challenges. He's just gone with the acceptance of new
A third MSU employee -- Jeff Mazer, manager of the FatCat Bakery and central salads -- was also chosen to
be a local member of the torch relay.
Annette Trinity-Stevens is the director of research communications at MSU.
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