U Student Named Olympic Torchbearer

When Tiffany Barnes first spoke before an audience, she realized something extraordinary.

?I noticed how much of a difference it made, how it opened people?s eyes,? the University of Utah sophomore said. ?It?s a natural high. I can?t explain the feeling I get.?

She has made speeches ever since. She talks about success, about overcoming obstacles and about abuse, something she faced as a child.

She wants to become a professional motivational speaker and is pursuing a communication and, possibly, a sociology degree.

When the Salt Lake Organizing Committee revealed the names of the 7,200 torchbearers who will carry the Olympic Flame to Salt Lake City, Barnes? was among them.

It?s the sort of thing you could tell your grandchildren about, she said. She will even have proof.

?What I think is cool, is you get to keep the actual torch,? she said.

Though she doesn?t know who submitted the short essay nominating her, ?I have my suspicions,? she said, noting a particular friend had mentioned the torchbearer opportunity over lunch once.

Her own story is?not surprisingly?the stuff of inspirational speeches. At the age of 13, Barnes was on her own.

?My stepdad made my mom choose between us, and she choose him,? she said. The ultimatum sprang from child abuse Barnes had suffered.

After a yard sale that sold most of her things, she boarded a bus headed for Logan and her father. Later, a friend urged Barnes to stay with her and her family.

During this time, she suffered from anorexia and felt suicidal.

?Once I could legally hold a job, I moved out,? she said.

Multiple part-time jobs saw her through high school.

?Waiting tables kept me afloat,? she said. ?I had the money right then.?

In high school, she joined a club and, through it, became involved in a speech competition. Abuse was the topic she chose to present?it was her first experience speaking.

Barnes is also working on a book about her life and has already found a publisher.

?At first, it was something in the back of my mind,? she said.

Motivational people have popped up in her life?the friend who offered encouragement and brought Barnes to live with her family, and the high school teacher who advised the club.

?She saw my situation,? Barnes said of the teacher. ?She wanted to help me at the point when I was suicidal and anorexic.

?I believe everybody just kind of has a candle inside them,? she said. That light can be spread from person to person, like a chain reaction.

This winter, she will carry the flame somewhere in the Salt Lake Valley?she doesn?t know where yet?toward the end of its two-month journey from Atlanta.

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