Special Olympics Kicks Off Historic Unified Relay Across America Presented by Bank of America

Thousands To Carry the Flame of Hope in Three Relay Routes Crossing the Nation Visit Unifiedrelay.org to Track the Torch Daily

ESPN and ABC to Showcase Story of Historic Relay Leading up to the 2015 Special Olympics World Games

May 26, 2015, 10:22 ET from Special Olympics

WASHINGTON, May 26, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Special Olympics announced today the official kick-off of the first Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America presented by Bank of America. The Unified Relay gives anyone in the country the once-in-a-lifetime chance to carry the Special Olympics Flame of Hope and help deliver it to Los Angeles, California for the start of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games on 25 July. 

Over the course of 46 days, in this team and individual fundraising event, thousands of participants are running, walking or biking a segment of the Unified Relay, as the torch passes in a hand-to-hand exchange through all 50 states. The Relay will culminate at the Opening Ceremony of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles on 25 July. 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. ESPN and ABC are also the official media partners of the Unified Relay.

The Flame of Hope was lit on 14 May in a formal torch lighting ceremony in Athens, Greece. Today, it will continue its journey when three torches will be lit in Augusta, Maine, Washington, D.C., and Miami, Florida, officially launching the Unified Relay. All three routes will travel west and become unified in Los Angeles on 10 July. 

"Today marks a historic event for our organization – this Relay is unifying our nation and giving communities across the United States the unprecedented opportunity to carry the Flame of Hope, leading up to our World Games in Los Angeles," said Special Olympics CEO Janet Froetscher.  "Through our partnerships with Bank of America, ESPN, ABC and all of our other great Relay partners, we are able to bring awareness of the skills and abilities of people with ID to all communities and towns in the United States so that even more people are aware of the significant impact our athletes make each and every day. Being able to share our athletes' stories across the nation for 46 days leading up to our World Games, and encouraging everyone to tune in to ESPN July 25August 2 to see our World Games wouldn't be possible without our partners."

In Augusta, Maine, Governor Paul LaPage, elite game wardens from North Woods Law and Special Olympics Pennsylvania athlete and Unified Relay co-captain Johanna Schoeneck will help kick off the celebrations at the State Capitol. In Washington, D.C. at the National Sylvan Theatre near the Washington Monument, Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan will join Musical Artist Andra Day, Miss District of Columbia USA Lizzy Olsen and Special Olympics Iowa athlete and Unified Relay co-captain Corey Leonhard to kick off the central leg of the Relay. In Miami, at Marlins Stadium, Marlins players will join actor and VIP Torchbearer Geovanni Gopradi and Special Olympics North Carolina athlete and Unified Relay co-captain Zach Commander to kick off the southern route of the Relay. Additionally, co-captain and WWE® Superstar Big Show® will represent WWE as part of the company's support as Promotional Partner of the Unified Relay Across America.  Three-time Grammy nominated tropical group Tiempo Libre will perform songs from their new album, Panamericano.

As the Relay enters each state, welcoming ceremonies and community celebrations will take place nightly with musical performances, celebrity guests and Unified Sports Experiences, where people with and without intellectual disabilities can play exhibition sports together. Olympic medalists from across the world will join Special Olympics Unified Relay partners, actors, musicians, professional athletes, lawmakers, members of law enforcement and the public to participate in the Relay. Some noteworthy stops on the Relay route include: four Major League ballparks in Baltimore, Atlanta, Kansas City and Los Angeles; a must-see Fourth of July celebration in Las Vegas; plus stops at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in North Carolina; Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida; ESPN's world headquarters in Bristol, CT; Minnesota's Mall of America; Chicago's Navy Pier; and San Antonio's Morgan's Wonderland, an amusement park created for people with disabilities. To tune in to see the torch's journey across the country, click on http://www.unifiedrelay.org to find out when the Relay will come to your community.

In its role as presenting sponsor, Bank of America is providing significant financial and volunteer support to the Unified Relay. In addition, the company is using its connections in local communities to encourage participation among individuals, families and businesses.

"By supporting Special Olympics in a nationwide relay, we're bringing cross-country awareness to one of our longtime partners," said Anne Finucane, Bank of America global chief strategy and marketing officer and a member of the Special Olympics Board of Directors. "We're excited to not only support this historic event, but also to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to carry the Flame of Hope as we demonstrate our commitment to inclusion."

When the three relay routes arrive in Los Angeles, the World Games Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg Team, comprised of law enforcement officers representing 36 countries, along with 10 Special Olympics athletes, will accept the torches and continue the Flame of Hope's journey to 120 cities and towns throughout California, including Host Towns where Special Olympics World Games delegations from more than 170 countries will participate in pre-Games cultural exchanges.

Each Unified Relay route is led by a group of co-captains who will serve as spokespeople for the Special Olympics movement and the Unified Relay, encouraging participation through registration, fundraising and spectatorship.

The Unified Relay co-captains are: Damian Lillard, Special Olympics Global Ambassador and American professional basketball star; Elena Delle Donne, Special Olympics Global Ambassador and American professional basketball star; Joe Haden, Special Olympics Global Ambassador and American professional football star; Big Show of Unified Relay promotional partner WWE; Maria Menounos, Special Olympics Global Ambassador and journalist; Nancy O'Dell, American television host and entertainment journalist; 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; Special Olympics North Carolina athlete Zach Commander; Special Olympics Pennsylvania athlete Johanna Schoeneck; and Special Olympics Iowa athlete Corey Leonhard.

Throughout the 46 days, ESPN and ABC media will tell the story of the Relay across its multiple media platforms, covering and promoting each of the three routes as they cross the country. It will include national coverage on ESPN and ABC programs at select stops throughout the Relay, local coverage on ABC affiliates along the routes, a "Countdown to LA2015" clock on ESPN.com and select ABC digital media, and promotion across ESPN web sites and radio stations as well as ABC affiliate stations – letting people know when the torch is coming to their town and where they can go to support the torch bearers.

ESPN has been a supporter of Special Olympics for more than 30 years. In addition to its media roles with the World Games and Unified Relay, ESPN and the Walt Disney Company are global presenting sponsors for the worldwide Special Olympics Unified Sports initiative.

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 4.4 million athletes in 170 countries. With the support of more than 1.3 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and more than 81,000 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, Lions Clubs International, Mattel, Microsoft, 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 Special Olympics World Summer Games
With 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 177 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