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Carrying the torch
January 11, 2010, 03:30 AM By Heather Murtagh

Before Olympians begin competing in Canada, the torch needs to travel 106 days including a stint in the hands of 16-year-old Laura Webber from Pacifica who was chosen by Coca-Cola as one of 20 inspiring people to be torchbearers.

Part of the 106-day, 27,000-mile journey the torch will travel before the winter games begin next month includes a two-day stint through Calgary. It’s in Calgary that Webber will be one of the selected few to help the torch get to its final destination.

The Lick-Wilmerding High School junior was selected for her environmental efforts. Webber, who grew up in Pacifica, joined 4-H in fifth grade.

"I was really into animals and it struck me as a good way to meet friends with the same focus,” she said.

Webber raised a rabbit, helped raise a steer and has chinchillas. Her chinchillas, Dusty and Lightening, are not related to her work with 4-H, but indicative of her love for animals.

In 2007, Webber was one of many people who watched Al Gore’s documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth,” and started to wonder what she could do to help. Her love of nature stood out when it came to creating the answer, the 4-H Million Trees Project. Webber founded the group that now boasts over 25,000 youth participants and over 70,000 trees planted in an effort to combat global climate change.

"Trees are the perfect thing. It’s so easy to plant a tree,” she said.

Webber recognized the goal, to plant a million trees, is a large one but was encouraged by the support she was already receiving. That support includes her family — parents Tom and Frederique and her 18-year-old brother Paul.

Last spring, a memo went out about Coca-Cola looking for teens who were active in one of three categories — environment, community and balanced living — to be considered as a torch bearer. Webber’s father nominated her to be among the 10 teens to be chosen. Webber enjoyed the idea, but was not convinced she would be chosen.

The teen learned of her fate while doing volunteer work this summer in Africa through an e-mail from her father. Webber was along on a three-week school trip in the rural village of Senegal in which the students helped build schools and install solar appliances. Learning she was chosen made Webber very excited.

She is one of 10 teens, five leaders from national health organizations, three Coca-Cola North America employees and Olympic gold medalists Shawn Johnson and Steven Lopez all chosen by Coca-Cola as inspiring people.

"These inspirational people have shown remarkable dedication in encouraging others and making a positive difference in so many lives,” Celeste Bottorff, vice president of living well for Coca-Cola North America, said in a press release.

There isn’t much preparation for Webber, who is excited to have the opportunity to meet the other teens.

As a junior, Webber still has time to decide what areas she’d like to study after high school. She noted an interest in service and humanitarian work with dreams to work in Africa.

To learn more about Laura Webber’s 4-H Million Trees effort visit www.4hmilliontrees.org.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: heather@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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