The National Special Olympic Unified Relay torch passed through Provo on Wednesday, July 1, moving forward on its route to Los Angeles, home of the Special Olympics games this year.
BYU’s Y-Serve program supports Special Olympic athletes, and several participants of BYU’s Special Olympic team were involved in the relay.
Ashley Nelson, team coach, has been involved with the program for three years. She said seeing the athletes overcome their disabilities and continue to be happy despite their hardships helps her find happiness in hard times.
“It’s really rewarding to spend time with people who are so enthusiastic,” Nelson said. She also explained how much building friendships with the athletes enriches her life. “It’s great to do something that helps other people.” This was her first time participating in the torch relay as a coach.
Velma Lisa Leftwich, mother of one of the participants, said she felt excited about the event. “The relay provided a good opportunity for our athletes to hold the torch rather than just see it at the Olympics.”
Leftwich said that the relay helps participants appreciate what the Special Olympics do for them, since BYU provides volunteers who donate their time.
Cathy Dawson’s son Devin has been involved with BYU’s Special Olympics team for four years. She expressed gratitude to BYU for organizing a larger number of participants for the program from all over the valley and for the time and effort the volunteers put in to make the Special Olympics program a success.
“Just being his mom, I can’t do what his coaches do. They’re all young and active,” Dawson said. She added that her son recognized that running with the torch is a privilege, since not many participants get that chance.
Juanna Lamb, reserve captain for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, was one of several officers involved in the event. Lamb mentioned that all involvement of the officers is volunteer based. She said it was her first time participating and that the experience was “absolutely amazing.”
“The smiles on the participants’ faces, how can that not make you happy? I’m almost speechless,” Lamb said. She started her journey with the torch in Denver earlier this week and will continue until it reaches the games in Los Angeles, passing through several more cities along the way.
Participant Riah Goforth has been involved in BYU’s Special Olympics program for four years and said the experience with the torch relay was very fun. “It was the best thing in my life,” Goforth said. He also expressed appreciation for his coaches, including his father, and his teammates.
The torch relay ended with smiles, and the athletes are looking forward to their basketball season, which will start in a few weeks.
For information about volunteering for BYU’s Special Olympic team, visit https://yserve.byu.edu/programs/special-olympics-team