An American flag that briefly flew over the Groton Fire Department last fall made its way this week to the site of the Olympic games, contested later this month in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The flag was one of four sent throughout the country as part of the Team USA Bobsled and Skeleton American Flag First Responders Relay. It is a project created by Matthew Troy, a filmmaker serving as the videographer for the bobsled and skeleton teams, based in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The idea for the project came to Troy last summer, when he was with the Olympic athletes for a “flag etiquette” presentation given by one of the athletes (and member of the US Military).

“Attending that presentation reminded me of my time with the National Honor Guard Academy, and the pride that came with learning how to properly handle and display a symbol of unity and pride in our nation,” Troy stated. “That’s where the idea of this project came up, because I thought that if I am filled with such pride and patriotic sentiment in being a volunteer for the team, maybe relaying a few flags across the United States would be a way to capture the spirit of first responders that we could somehow pass to the Team.”

He likened the relay aspect of the flags going from state to state with the relay of the Olympic torch.

Troy is a volunteer firefighter and EMT. It was through his connection to the Hebron, Conn. fire department that led to Groton getting an Olympics-bound flag for the day. Kevin McDonnell is a volunteer firefighter in Groton, where he and his wife have a camp on Groton Pond. Their home is in Hebron, Conn.

McDonnell was part of a flag-raising trio that hoisted the well-traveled banner in Groton on Oct. 9, 2017. It occurred the same day as Groton’s fall foliage festival. Also involved were fire department Lt. Henry Knott and Phillip Palmer.

At the time McDonnell said townspeople were pleased to be a part of the flag relay. “The people I talked to were pretty enthusiastic about it,” he said.

Other states that flew the Groton flag were New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and all other New England states, except Rhode Island.

“I am so incredibly proud that we were able to pull off flying all four flags collectively in every state across the nation,” said Troy. Alaska and Hawaii were even included as the flag that flew in the Great Lakes region found its way to the two non-contiguous states. That flag is headed to the Olympics with the men’s skeleton team.

All four flags were presented to the team at a fundraiser event on Jan. 23 in Washington, DC.

Troy said the flags flew across the country, mostly above fire and police stations, many with special ceremonies performed. The flag that flew in Alaska was in Barrow, the northern most town in America. Another flag hung over the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Maryland. All four flags flew in New York State, as the bobsled and skeleton teams are based in Lake Placid.

Troy said he expects the flags to hang in the Olympic village in Pyeongchang where the teams will reside for the duration of the games, but he hopes there will be opportunity for a more prominent display of the flags.

“Should team members ascend the podium this winter to receive a medal, maybe someone will remember to keep the flags close to hand to them when in a time of celebration,” Troy said.

About the Skeleton Sport

The sport of skeleton racing involves a single person riding atop a small sled down a frozen track while lying face down, head first. The race begins with a running start from the opening gate at the top of the course. Skeleton sleds are steered using torque provided by the head and shoulders. A sled can travel upwards of 80 mph.

Track lengths vary but the 2018 Olympic track at the Alpensia (S. Korea) Sliding Centre is 2,018 meters long to commemorate the Olympic Games.

About the Skeleton Crew

Representing the U.S. as skeleton races for the women’s Olympic team carrying the Groton flag will be Katie Uhlaender, of Colorado and Kendall Wesenberg, of California. Wesenberg, 27, can be seen in a photo provided by Troy holding the flag that flew in Groton. This will be her first Olympic games. Uhlaender is a three-time Olympian; she finished sixth at the 2006 Torino Games, 11th at the 2010 Vancouver Games and fourth at the 2014 Sochi Games.

The Olympic bobsled and skeleton events are held in a four-heat format over two days of racing with two heats on each day. Men’s skeleton will kick things off Feb. 15-16, followed by women’s skeleton on Feb. 16-17. Athletes arrived in South Korea this week on two different flights. One landed on Wednesday and the other on Thursday.

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