Special Olympics torch to pass through Charlotte

Dale Earnhardt Jr. carries the Olympic torch down Brevard St. in Charlotte on Dec. 5, 2001.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. carries the Olympic torch down Brevard St. in Charlotte on Dec. 5, 2001. 2001 OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

On a mild December day in 2001, about 1,000 people watched Dale Earnhardt Jr. jog with the Olympic torch through uptown Charlotte as it made its way from Athens, Greece, to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Now another Olympic torch will pass through Charlotte. The Special Olympics World Games take place in Los Angeles this year. For the first time ever, a relay will carry the Flame of Hope across the country. Bank of America, which is sponsoring the event, and Special Olympics North Carolina want Charlotte residents to show their support for people with intellectual disabilities by cheering the participants on, volunteering or even running in the relay June 4-5.

Keith L. Fishburne, CEO of Special Olympics North Carolina, and Charles Bowman, BofA’s North Carolina and Charlotte president, sent this letter to the Observer seeking the public’s support:

Up to 200 million people worldwide have intellectual disabilities, according to the World Health Organization. And in North Carolina, there are more than 200,000 residents with intellectual disabilities.

Despite advances that have been made over the years, these men, women and children face negative stereotypes on a daily basis. It’s a constant struggle, and one that we need to address – no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient.

This summer, Special Olympics and Bank of America are providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to join the movement for equality. We’re bringing the Unified Relay Across America to cities and towns throughout the country. The Unified Relay will be in North Carolina June 1-5 and in Charlotte on June 4-5. The relay will give residents of Charlotte and surrounding areas an unprecedented opportunity to show their commitment to inclusion and respect for all by simply getting involved.

Over the course of 46 days, the Unified Relay will deliver the Flame of Hope from Athens, Greece, to Los Angeles for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. The Flame of Hope will visit each state, and by registering to participate and committing to raise money for Special Olympics, individuals or teams can run, walk or skate with the torch for a half-mile segment or 5 mile bike segment.

There are several other ways for Charlotteans to show their support, including volunteering, cheering on the participants and athletes, or taking part in festivities surrounding the relay. We challenge the entire community to get involved in some way.

We urge you to take this challenge and pass it on – let others know why this is so important and how they can help make a difference. There’s no reason why, in this day and age, people with intellectual disabilities should be overlooked and face barriers for equality. You can help us make a change.

An opportunity like this doesn’t come around often. The Unified Relay will be a galvanizing moment for Charlotte and the entire country. Sign up today at www.unifiedrelay.org.