Special Olympics relay begins May 26

Special Olympics on Tuesday announced a 46-day Flame of Hope relay that will help drive awareness leading up to the World Games in July. The Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America will have three routes -- beginning May 26 in Augusta, Maine; Washington, D.C.; and Miami.

The route will cover all states in the continental United States before converging in Los Angeles, where the World Games will be held July 25 to Aug. 2 (ESPN, WatchESPN).

"In a time when there is so much dividing people, we at Special Olympics felt that our World Games offer an opportunity for all of us to come together to celebrate differences and become unified in the spirit of respect and inclusion," Special Olympics CEO Janet Froetscher said in a statement. "More than 7,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from more than 170 countries, along with the tens of thousands of their families, friends and fans will arrive to the U.S. in July and we are asking America to help welcome the world. This summer, the Unified Relay will offer the nation an opportunity to show the world that we are indivisible."

More than 20,000 participants are expected to participate, either running, walking or biking a segment of the relay. Unified athletes and teams from across the country can register to participate in the relay.

Michelle Kwan, who will be one of the celebrity co-captains of the run, said the relay will be nothing short of inspirational.

"I'm thrilled to be part of the announcement of what promises to be the greatest and biggest torch run in United States history," said Michelle Kwan, a two-time Olympic medalist and Special Olympics International board member. "[It's] a run that will not only touch every state in the Union, every corner of this country, but also engage and inspire every American. The Unified Relay Across America is going to unify the entire world in one giant celebration of the spirit of Special Olympics."

Other athletes and celebrities who will serve as co-captains are Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, Chicago Sky guard Elena Delle Donne and Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden. All three stars are also Special Olympics Global Ambassadors.

ESPN, Disney and Special Olympics joined forces in 2013 as part of a two-year global initiative to leverage the power of sports to promote an environment of social inclusion and acceptance, by uniting people with and without intellectual disabilities through the Special Olympics Unified Sports program.

The goal has been to double participation in the U.S. to 1 million Unified Sports participants, including athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities), teammates (individuals without intellectual disabilities) and coaches, by the end of this year.

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