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Missouri native will carry Olympic torch

KANSAS CITY (AP) — So here’s this woman from Peculiar, running along a crowded London street while holding the Olympic torch aloft.

She’s probably thinking, “Man, how did I get here? This is so.”

Then she drops it.

Drops it!

With the whole world watching. The queen shakes her head. Organizers hurry out and make her run the rest of the way through back alleys and living rooms.

That was Shara Clevenger Brice’s dream not long ago; that she would drop the torch Monday during her leg of the relay to get the flame to Olympic Stadium to kick off the 2012 London games.

But unlike other things this 1987 graduate of Raymore-Peculiar High School has dreamed of doing, this one probably won’t come true.

She’s not dropped many things in her life.

Honor student. Social crusader. Award winner. She left Cass County and ended up changing the lives of thousands of youth in London’s poorest borough.

That’s why this former Ray-Pec cheerleader and editor of the school paper was picked to be one of the 8,000 bearers of the flame as it winds its way from Land’s End on the Celtic Sea through the English countryside to the London stadium.

“It’s quite a leap for somebody from Peculiar, that’s for sure,” Brice, 43, said. “It’s humbling and a huge honor. When I run, I’m going to take my time and enjoy the moment. I’m going to think of all the people who have helped me in my life.”

And all those thousands she’s helped will probably be watching her.

After graduating from William Jewell College in Liberty, Brice and her husband, Jonathan, whom she met at college, moved to England in 1992. An Episcopal minister, Jonathan was assigned to the parish of Buckhurst Hill. At the end of a three-year commitment, the couple talked to the bishop about their next post.

He told them there were two choices. One in a fine neighborhood where they would live in a big house. The other at Church of Ascension Victoria Docks in the Newham borough, home to one of London’s highest concentrations of poverty, crime and unemployment.

Easy choice. They wanted to make a difference. So they settled in the land of Oliver Twist.

At the post office, someone asked Brice: “Why do you want to move here? With a young family?”

She soon showed them why by opening what she said was the very first cheerleading gym in London. She wanted the Ascension Eagles Cheerleaders to provide something to do for the idle youth in the East End parish.

The first year, the Eagles finished dead last in meets. The next year they won the national cheerleading championship. Many championships followed. Earlier this year, the Eagles represented England in the Cheerleading World Championships, finishing fifth.

Today, the charity serves over a thousand kids each week in 30 schools.

In 2005, Brice was named a member of the Order of the British Empire. The story of the Ascension Eagles and its founder is being made into a feature film.

And all that is why today at exactly 5:37 p.m. London time (11:37 a.m. in Jefferson City), Brice will take the flame from the previous runner and light her own torch. She will then run from Wimbledon Park Road, entering at Wimbledon Park Court, and finish at Pirbright Road.

All of 300 yards. But that’s a long way for a girl a long way from home.

She hopes her family back in the Kansas City area gets together to watch. Her parents, Cla and Eloise Clevenger, along with her two sisters usually eat dinner Monday evenings at Brice’s grandmother’s house in Harrisonville.

“Maybe they can move it up to lunch this week,” Brice said.

Regardless of where, Mom and Dad won’t miss it.

“I’ve never known anybody who’s carried the torch,” Cla Clevenger said Thursday. “It’s amazing and we’re awfully proud of her.”

A year ago, after 16 years in England, Shara, Jonathan and their two children, Crichelle, 17, and Joel, 15, moved back to the states to Aspen, Colo., where Jonathan was assigned to a church.

Joel helped his mother train for her torch run. Crichelle told the airline why her mother was going back to England and they moved her up to first class.

They will stay for the London games before heading home. Along with Shara’s torch.

“I don’t know exactly how to get it through customs,” she said.

The hunch here — she’ll figure it out.

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