Special Olympics announced today the official kickoff 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 for the start of the Special Olympics 2015 World Games on July 25. Unified Relay Co-Captain and Special Olympics Goodwill Ambassador for the 2015 World Games Big Show represented WWE, who is a Promotional Partner 2015 Special Olympics World Games, at the Miami kickoff event.
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 July 25. 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 May 14 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, officially launching the Unified Relay. All three routes will travel west and become unified in Los Angeles on July 10.
"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 25 to Aug. 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 helped 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 joined 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 joined 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 Big Show represented 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 performed 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, Conn.; 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, visit unifiedrelay.org to find out when the Relay will come to your community.
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: Big Show of Unified Relay promotional partner WWE; 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; 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.