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Discovery Discovery Newsletter December 2001
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MSU Professor Emeritus, Stroke Victim Selected to Carry Olympic Torch


by Annette Trinity-Stevens

Gordon McFeters 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 his life."

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 challenges."

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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© 2000 Montana State University-Bozeman
Discovery is published monthly during the academic year by the MSU Office of the Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer, 207 Montana Hall. AnnetteTrinity-Stevens, editor.
Illustration by Robert Rath.
For more information, call 994-5607.

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