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|Established as Toronto's first public college in 1966, Centennial College offers programs in business, communications, community and health studies, science and engineering technology, general arts, hospitality and transportation.|
If Naresh Lalman has one regret about his precious time holding the Olympic Torch, it's that he jogged the entire 300 metres, completing the allotted distance in an all-too-short two minutes.
"Looking back, I wish I would have walked and truly relished the experience," he wrote in an e-mail from his hotel room in Saskatchewan.
You see, in addition to running with the stylized metal torch, Lalman is part of a small army of people providing the logistics for the Olympic Torch Relay across Canada.
Lalman, 26, is the lead automotive technician involved in keeping the 100 General Motors vehicles used to support the run in tip-top mechanical shape during the long journey, which began the day before Halloween.
At more than 100 days in duration and traversing more than 1,000 towns and places of interest, Canada's 2010 Olympic Torch Relay promises to be the longest in history to be contained within the host country.
"We have two teams that take turns traveling ahead of the torch, while the other one stays close to the torch should anything go wrong. We drive a brand-new GMC Sierra truck with a trailer attached that has all our tools and equipment to make our repairs," he explains.
"From 4:20 pm to often way past midnight we service and wash the cars and buses as they finish their daily journey. We replace light bulbs, windshield wipers, make sure the compressors on the RV are in good shape, and take care of the basics like tire pressure and washer fluid."
"The cars must be perfectly ready for the next morning, as some workers begin their day around 4:30 am. I check out at around 10 am, travel to our next destination in a new city and start all over again by setting up at another GM dealership waiting for the cars to roll in for service."
Lalman says crossing the Prairies in January has been especially bracing; it's not easy getting out of bed when it's -40 C and the wind is howling. But it's an exciting assignment for a young technician who never dreamt he'd be part of an elite group to escort the sacred Olympic flame across Canada.
With family roots that stem back to India, Lalman was born in Port of Spain of the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. It came as a surprise to no one when he turned out to be as mechanically minded as his father, a welder and automotive service manager.
"I was obsessed with taking things apart just to learn how to put them back together again, including televisions, radios - and my dad's brakes. I got into a lot of trouble for that one."
At age 12 Lalman and his family moved to Toronto. His father became a heavy-machine operator in the construction trade and his mother was hired by General Motors to oversee parts shipments to the Oshawa automotive assembly complex. It didn't take long for Lalman to determine what he wanted to make of his life.
"I loved cars, grew up with cars, cars were in my blood. I just followed my passion to become an automotive service technician," he recalls.
While in high school he was recommended for the CITI Motive Power Apprenticeship program and was given a scholarship to help pursue it. It's a two-year transition to work program that allowed him to begin his apprenticeship early. He took Centennial College automotive courses in high school and received on-the-job training early in his budding career.
"Centennial is one of the largest transportation training organizations in Canada and is equipped with the latest technology in the field. The faculty were amazing. They had up-to-date knowledge of my field and had impressive work experiences."
After completing his studies in the Automotive Service Technician Apprenticeship program at Centennial in 2004, Lalman worked at Midtown Saab as a fourth-year apprentice and then was hired as a full-time licensed technician. He quickly made an impression.
"I was recognized as being among the best Saab technicians, earning the title of Saab Skilled Technician in 2005 at age 22. I worked for Saab for over six years, and consider myself a Saab specialist," he says proudly.
His manager at Midtown Saab had left the dealership and resurfaced as the vehicle manager for the Torch Relay. Remembering Lalman, he called and invited him to apply for the lead technician position. He was hired immediately.
"Before I knew it I was being flown out to Victoria, British Columbia, for the opening ceremonies of the relay. This all happened in a matter of weeks."
Once the cauldron is lit at the Vancouver Games on Feb. 12 Lalman will be out of work - but he's having too much fun to care at the moment. He got to run with the torch through the town of Erin, Ontario, with his beaming family close by.
"I remember thinking how clichéd it was hearing other torch bearers on the news describe the experience as ‘once in a lifetime.' But once you are holding your torch and you see the flame jogging towards you, there is nothing left but for you to take in that moment - one you will never forget."
"This job can be extremely stressful, and being behind the scenes you often don't get much recognition for your work. But nothing makes me prouder of being a part of this team than seeing the faces of an entire school of children cheering on the Torch from the sidelines."
After the Olympics Games wrap up, he'll make his way back to Toronto and get ready for teacher's college.
"It would be a dream to complete my Technological Education program and one day return to Centennial College to teach automotive technology and inspire a future generation of youth who share my passion."
As one of the custodians of the Olympic Flame - in more ways than one - Lalman has already found his place in history.