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Carrying on the Olympic Spirit

More than 60 Special Olympics athletes and coaches were named official Olympic Torchbearers in the runup to the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games. Nominations were made based on each person’s ability to inspire others. Plus, they had to be able to run! 

Determined to Show the World

Stephanie Handojo practicing for London's 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

Special Olympics athletes inspire everywhere they go, and this year, some are inspiring brand new audiences. As excitement builds for this summer’s London 2012 Olympics, several Special Olympics athletes are blazing a trail as part of the 70-day Olympic Torch Relay during the runup to the Summer Games.

Stephanie Handojo is known for her aquatics skills and won a gold medal at her first Special Olympics World Games last year in Athens, Greece. But this month, she's switching to running, as she takes up the Olympic torch on its way through Nottingham, England. Stephanie, who has Down syndrome, has come into her own since joining Special Olympics. UNICEF nominated the Indonesian swimmer because of “her determination, and her success." A UNICEF spokeswoman calls Stephanie “a true role model” who has “demonstrated that all children, regardless of ability or circumstances, can reach their potential when given the right opportunity, support and assistance.”

In addition to her skills as an athlete, Stephanie has been perfecting her talents on the piano. She even holds a record for playing 22 songs within 2 hours on the piano. She’s coming from half a world away to take part in the Relay, and will be accompanied on her run by Alex Eustace, a tennis player who won gold and silver at last year’s World Summer Games in Athens.

Inspired to Run

Daniel Bendle, left, was among the dozens of Special Olympics athletes taking part in the Torch Relay. Close to his heart was the memory of his mother, who died two days before the event. As Daniel put it, “I ran for my mum, {because} I know she would be smiling.” 

Several other Special Olympics athletes from Ireland and Great Britain are also taking part in the Torch Relay. They include Daniel Bendle, who made his debut as an Olympic torchbearer earlier this month. David had a special motivation to do his best in the London 2012 Olympics Torch Relay: he was running in memory of his mother, who died two days before the event. David said, “I ran for my mum, {because} I know she would be smiling.”

Daniel has been swimming with Special Olympics since he was 11 years old. Now 20, he's been encouraged to take his skills to the next level. Daniel has found work as a lifeguard and swim coach for people with and without disabilities. Says Daniel, “Special Olympics has introduced me to a whole new world. I have made so many friends and become part of something.”

Daniel is one of 10 Special Olympics athletes chosen for the Torch Relay through the Coca-Cola Future Flames campaign. Among them is Omar Haddad, a gymnast who won five gold medals at last year's World Summer Games in Athens. Omar is also star of an award-winning short film that illustrates how encouragement can help people with disabilities transform their lives through sport.

In all, more than 60 Special Olympics athletes and coaches have been chosen as Olympic Torchbearers, including Jacqueline Minchin, a swimmer and part-time clerical assistant who is also a spokesperson for employment of people with disabilities. Coaches chosen to take part include Val Hanover, a winner of BBC's Sports Personality of the Year "Unsung Hero Award." She is retiring after three decades of dedicated work with Special Olympics athletes. Val is definitely leaving on a high note, especially after her victorious run with the Olympic Torch Relay.