More than 40 runners brought the excitement of the Olympics to downtown Palo Alto Saturday evening, carrying the first solar-powered torch to King Plaza to inaugurate the 2009 Summer National Senior Games.
A crowd of several hundred people of all ages, from children to seniors, came out for the festivities, which included live music, activities for kids and fireworks.
Seniors and kids alike danced to the music of The Fabulous Hummerz amid the carnival atmosphere.
An original theme song, "Long Live the Challenge," was written and recorded by Starship singer Mickey Thomas and was played during the event. Thomas is known as the voice behind such hit songs as "Sara" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now."
But the star of the show was the solar-powered cauldron, a 12-foot-high shimmering tower of 800 mirrored tiles that twinkled as Palo Alto athletes Beth and John Guislin touched the tower with a solar-powered torch.
Fountains of fireworks exploded behind the stage where the cauldron was lit.
"When I was standing with my fellow Olympians and saw the flags and as I got a glimpse of the torch coming down the street, I got a big bubble in my throat and tears came to my eyes," said Anne Warner Cribbs, president of the Senior Games' local organizing committee and a producer of the two-week event.
"It lived up to my expectations and I would say probably went beyond," she said of the opening ceremony.
Earlier in the evening, Mayor Peter Drekmeier descended from Caltrain at the University Avenue station and was the first runner to carry the torch.
The relay made its way along El Camino Real and through the Stanford campus, then up University Avenue and to Hamilton Avenue with a police escort and three attendants on Segways.
Vice Mayor Jack Morton also carried the torch during the run.
John Naber, 1976 Olympian at Montreal, served as Master of Ceremonies, introducing Cribbs, Drekmeier, Morton and Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, along with Philip Godfrey, president of the National Senior Games Association and sponsors David Jones Jr. of Humana and David Nicolai of AstraZeneca.
Drekmeier welcomed the crowd at City Hall, speaking about how the torch, made of old-growth redwood, is as old as the time when the first torch was lit at the first games. He presented Cribbs with a proclamation from the city for her work on the Games.
The Games have opened at a time when the country is facing many challenges, said David Jones Jr., CEO of Humana, which is sponsoring the events. Obesity is one of the largest challenges the country faces, and the games offer an opportunity to encourage others to join in, he said.
Torch runner Patrick Dunkley, 48, an attorney for Stanford University, agreed.
"My hat is off to people in their 60s and 70s who are encouraging everyone to become athletes," he said.