Special Olympics Flame of Hope arrives in Los Angeles after Historic Unified Relay Across America Presented by Bank of America

Jul 10, 2015, 09:15 ET from Special Olympics

LOS ANGELES, July 10, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Special Olympics Flame of Hope will officially arrive in Los Angeles today after having traveled 46 days and over 20,500 miles as part of the first-ever Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America Presented by Bank of America. The Unified Relay began its journey as three simultaneous routes in Augusta, Maine, Washington, D.C. and Miami, Florida on 26 May and has traveled west, visiting all 50 states, to deliver the Flame of Hope to Los Angeles in anticipation of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games starting on 25 July.

The three flames will become unified at Dodger Stadium tonight with the completion of the Unified Relay and will be handed over to the Guardians of the Flame™, law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes, who will take the Flame of Hope on its Final Leg throughout California before arriving to the Opening Ceremony. The conclusion of the Unified Relay Across America coincides with the birthday of Special Olympics' founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who spent her life championing acceptance and inclusion for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

"On behalf of all of the athletes and families of Special Olympics, we thank America for carrying the torch for inclusion and respect," said Janet Froetscher, CEO, Special Olympics. "Watching the country rally on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities is proof that together we are changing the game. It is our hope that this is just the beginning of more inclusive communities everywhere."

As the presenting sponsor of the Unified Relay Across America and the 2015 Los Angeles Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg, and a Special Olympics partner for more than 30 years, Bank of America's scale and resources helped bring cross-country awareness to the Special Olympics movement at an unprecedented level. The Unified Relay gave thousands of participants the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to carry the Flame of Hope on its way to the 2015 Special Olympics World Games and brought a message of unity and inclusion to the nation.

"I could not be more proud of the outpouring of support across the country for the Unified Relay, or more touched by the opportunity to carry the Flame of Hope," said Anne Finucane, Bank of America global chief strategy and marketing officer and a member of the Special Olympics Board of Directors. "With more than 2,000 Bank of America employees prepared to volunteer at the upcoming World Games, we continue to put our resources behind the Special Olympics as it transforms lives through the powers of courage, acceptance and inclusivity."

Each state greeted the Unified Relay with welcoming ceremonies and community celebrations. The nationwide movement celebrated at noteworthy stops such as the NASCAR Hall of Fame in North Carolina, Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, ESPN's world headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, and in communities spanning from St. Louis to Seattle, Pittsburgh to Portland, Atlanta to Austin and everywhere in-between.   

To date, the Unified Relay Across America has raised over 1.6 million dollars for Special Olympics and more than 10,000 people walked, biked, ran or rolled the Flame of Hope across all 50 states on its journey west including Michelle Kwan, Olympic figure-skating legend and Special Olympics International Board Member; and Unified Relay celebrity co-captains Big Show of Unified Relay promotional partner WWE; Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg, co-hosts of the ESPN radio broadcast, "Mike and Mike in the Morning"; Aloe Blacc, American singer and songwriter; Josh Turner, American singer and actor;  Maria Menounos, author, producer and host at E! Entertainment and Special Olympics Global Ambassador; Nancy O'Dell, host of Entertainment Tonight, producer, author, and Special Olympics Global Ambassador; Apolo Ohno, American short track speed skating Olympic champion and Special Olympics Global Ambassador and 15 Olympians including Olympic Gold Medalist and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Hannah Teter.  Throughout the Relay more than 100 community celebrations were hosted and featured musical performances by Reverb Nation artists across the country. Global Ambassadors and Co-Captains Elena Delle Donne and Joe Haden also help promote and engage the nation in the Relay.

Following its arrival in Los Angeles, the World Games Law Enforcement Torch Run® Final Leg Team, comprised of law enforcement officials representing 23 countries, along with 10 Special Olympics athletes will accept the Flame of Hope. This team will continue the Flame of Hope's journey to 120 cities and towns throughout California and travel to host towns where the Special Olympics World Games delegations from more than 170 countries will participate in cultural gift exchanges prior to the World Games.      

"Law enforcement officers from around the world have been volunteering together for over 34 years to champion acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities through the Law Enforcement Torch Run," said John Newnan, Final Leg Team Captain. "It is our honor to be the Guardians of the Flame creating awareness for Special Olympics and excitement for the 2015 Los Angeles Special Olympics World Games on the Final Leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run."

The Flame of Hope will culminate its journey at the Opening Ceremony on 25 July and signify the official start of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. ESPN, the official global broadcast partner of the World Games will be on site from Los Angeles to televise the Opening Ceremony live as well as a nightly highlights program throughout the nine-day event.  Tune into ESPN on 25 July for live coverage of Opening Ceremony!

About Special Olympics
Special Olympics is a global movement that unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports, every day around the world. We empower people with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their communities, which leads to a more respectful and inclusive society for all.  Using sports as the catalyst and programming around health and education, Special Olympics is fighting inactivity, injustice and intolerance. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 4.5 million athletes in 170 countries. With the support of more than 1.4 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and more than 94,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including the Christmas Records Trust, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics, The Coca-Cola Company, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, Microsoft, Lions Clubs International, Toys"R"Us, Mattel, P&G, Bank of America, Essilor Vision Foundation, the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation, Finish Line, The Safeway Foundation, and Safilo Group.  Visit Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org. Engage with us on: Twitter @specialolympics, fb.com/specialolympics, youtube.com/specialolympicshq, instagram.com/specialolympics and specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com.

About The Unified Relay Across America
The Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America presented by Bank of America, is a once in a lifetime opportunity for America to unite to build communities of respect and inclusion. Over the course of 46 days, in a hand-to-hand exchange, over 20,000 participants throughout the nation will carry the torch, passing the Special Olympics Flame of Hope across the country to help deliver it to Los Angeles for the Special Olympics World Games. The Unified Relay will be three simultaneous routes visiting all 50 states and will be led by celebrity and Special Olympics athlete co-captains.  The Unified Relay will begin on May 26 starting in Augusta, Maine; Miami, Florida; and Washington, D.C. traveling west, where all three routes will converge in Los Angeles on July 10. Along each route, welcoming ceremonies and community celebrations will take place with musical performances, celebrity guests and Special Olympics Unified Sports Experiences. The Unified Relay Across America is presented by Bank of America, and supported by official media partners ESPN and ABC, and national sponsors Citgo, Finish Line, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics, Microsoft, PR Nutrition, Toyota and Visa. To learn more, visit www.unifiedrelay.org and engage with us on social with #UnifiedRelay on Facebook and Twitter.

About the 2015 Los Angeles Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg

The Final Leg tradition is for law enforcement officers, representing their country, state and Torch Run Program, to act as Guardians of the Flame and carry the Special Olympics Torch and "Flame of Hope" to the Opening Ceremonies of the Special Olympics World Games. This Torch Run event is called the Final Leg because it represents the culmination of Torch Run events that have occurred previously throughout the World.  The Torch Run Final Leg is not only a salute to the athletes from around the World who will compete in the Special Olympics World Games, but also an honor for the participating law enforcement officers who comprise the Torch Run Final Leg Team.  The Olympic flame symbolizes the light of spirit, knowledge and life. With identical power and majesty, the Special Olympics "Flame of Hope," in the entrusted care of the law enforcement community, symbolizes the courage and celebration of diversity that the Special Olympics movement represents.  The 2015 Final Leg will precede the Special Olympics World Games held in Los Angeles, California.  The Flame Arrival Ceremony is scheduled for the state capitol in Sacramento, California on Monday, 13 July. The flame will then travel throughout the state before reaching the Opening Ceremony in Los Angeles on 25 July.  The mission of the Final Leg is to create awareness and excitement for Special Olympics, support and attendance of the World Games, and involve, inspire and motivate runners to increase their level of commitment to Special Olympics when they return to their local Programs. The Final Leg Team (126 members strong) is comprised of law enforcement runners, Special Olympics athletes, and Logistics Team members from 48 states and  23 countries around the world representing 79 Torch Run programs.  Final Leg runners were chosen for their dedication and commitment to the Law Enforcement Torch Run and Special Olympics by their respective Torch Run Programs throughout the world. For more information on the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg for the 2015 World Games, please contact Final Leg Committee Chairman and Team Captain John Newnan at final.leg@gmail.com and visit www.letr-finalleg.org

About the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR)

The LETR began 33 years ago with founder Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon, and five law enforcement officers carrying the torch for the Special Olympics Kansas Summer Games in Wichita. The LETR has since evolved to a volunteer partnership with Special Olympics to champion acceptance and inclusion.  It has become a worldwide community of law enforcement officers rallying to support Special Olympics, the impetus for millions of new friendships around the world, and a series of events including Torch Runs, Polar Plunge fundraisers, and Tip-A-Cop® events.   The LETR is the largest grassroots fundraiser for Special Olympics with more than 100,000 law enforcement participants around the world.  It was announced at the 2014 LETR conference that the LETR has raised a cumulative sum of a half a billion dollars since its inception in 1981 and more than $50.3 million in 2013 for Special Olympics athletes. Visit www.letr.org for more information.

About the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games

With 6,500 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 165 countries, along with 30,000 volunteers and an anticipated 500,000 spectators, the 2015 Special Olympics World Games - being staged in Los Angeles July 25 - August 2, 2015 - will be the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world in 2015, and the single biggest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games. The 2015 Special Olympics World Games, with the unparalleled spirit, enthusiasm, teamwork, joy and displays of courage and skill that are hallmarks of all Special Olympics events, will feature 25 Olympic-style sports in venues throughout the Los Angeles region. The Opening Ceremony, to be held July 25 in the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, site of the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games, is expected to attract 80,000 spectators. For more information on the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, including volunteer and sponsorship opportunities, visit www.LA2015.org and on social with #ReachUpLA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


SOURCE Special Olympics