OAKLAND – The Olympic flame may have missed Berkeley in its tour around the Bay Area Friday, but one Berkeley resident did his part to get the fire to Salt Lake City.
Ilan Biederman of North Berkeley, whose strength and courage in the face of a debilitating disease has been an inspiration to those who know him, carried the torch on its closest approach to the Berkeley border.
“Ilan-mania” broke out on the corner of Broadway and 51st St. at around 2 p.m., as about 75 of Biederman’s friends and family members – some of whom came from New York, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles – gathered at the spot where the flame would be passed to their hero.
Biederman’s fans painted a large banner and wore matching shirts that said “I Y Ilan” on the front and “He Bie de’ Man” on the back.
The rambunctious crowd was hollering and cheering on their man a good ten minutes before he arrived at the scene.
“He’s got a big fan club!” shouted Anna Dinaburg, Biederman’s fiancee.
For the last 10 years, Biederman has suffered from osteoblastoma – a very rare, benign tumor of the bone that has required him to undergo 14 operations, and has left him in severe, near-constant pain.
“It’s been a very exciting week,” said Dinaburg. “This last year has been a really tough one for us. This has been something that we’ve been able to look forward to.”
Stephen Lamarca, Biederman’s brother-in-law, came from Seattle to root Biederman on.
“Ilan is just super-cool,” he said. “He keeps such a positive outlook on life. That’s why people nominated him – he always puts his best foot forward.”
Knowing Biederman was an Olympics fan, Dinaburg’s sister, Alissa Stolz, nominated him to be a torch carrier several months ago. She told many of Biederman’s friends, but not Biederman himself, about the campaign. About 100 of them contributed letters in support.
Biederman said on Thursday that when Stolz called him to say he would be carrying the torch he was shocked and amazed and “overwhelmed with emotion.”
At around 2:40 p.m., when a van pulled up to lower Biederman – who gets around in a wheelchair because of his condition – to his starting point for the relay, the crowd went crazy. Security guards on motorcycles repeatedly requested Ilan fans to take their photographs from the sidewalk.
The fire-bearer from the previous stretch approached, and Biederman held his torch aloft to receive the flame.
Fans raced along behind Biederman, snapping photos, the entire length of his stretch of the relay. They battled for the roadway with the security guards and several large promotional vehicles.
At its end, people carrying cameras asked everyone to line up behind Biederman for a group photo. A good number of faces, including Biederman’s, were in tears.
“Thank you all so much for coming,” Biederman said. “It’s really all about you guys – it’s not about me.”