Carrying a torch: Athlete forges friendships during World Games run

2013-02-17T00:00:00Z 2013-05-15T16:17:12Z Carrying a torch: Athlete forges friendships during World Games runBy ZACH BENOIT The Billings Gazette

Two weeks after returning home from 12 days in South Korea for the 2013 Special Olympics World Games, Vivienne Shockley already misses her new friends.

When speaking of them, she gets quiet and thinks for a moment, looking down at a white disc etched with tiny black Korean words and looped around her neck with a long black cord, before a bright smile flashes across her face.

"I got about 100 new friends there," Shockley said. "It was hard to leave them, because I just met them."

Shockley, who lives in Billings, was one of just 10 Special Olympics athletes from around the world chosen to participate in the games' Law Enforcement Torch Run, which ran the Flame of Hope across South Korea to the opening ceremonies.

She spent 12 days in South Korea, running the torch 700 miles through the country each day to the host city of Pyeongchang with her teammates in four or five daily single-mile shifts.

The torch run is a massive fundraiser for Special Olympics that, sponsored and organized by law enforcement agencies worldwide, has raised more than $400 million.

Shockley, 32, has been a mainstay in Special Olympics Montana for 20 years and has been to the World Games before, but never in this capacity.

"It was fun, but it was hard running every day," she said. "I'm glad I did it and I'm glad I'm home, but it was hard to leave."

She said getting to know athletes, coaches and law enforcement officials from around the globe was the best part, and she's already keeping in touch with many of them on Facebook.

During the run, the group wound through the South Korean countryside, staying in cities and towns as they passed through. Shockley said some of the food — she probably won't eat much rice for a while after eating so much there — and customs, such as sitting on the floor around a table for meals, took some getting used to, but the camaraderie made it one big adventure.

"They'd always push me along," she said. "There was always encouragement. They'd hold my hand while I was running if I needed it."

Another highlight involved the team holding its own Polar Plunge — a popular Torch Run fundraiser where people jump into chilly water — along the route.

Shockley helped shape that one by suggesting the group's eventual theme: superheroes. About a dozen runners dressed up as superheroes — Shockley as Wonder Woman — and hopped into the sea.

"They really supported me in that idea," she said. "People there were surprised to see us. It was chilly, but the plunge is supposed to be cold."

She also gave a speech about Special Olympics to thousands of people at the games.

In preparation for the run, Shockley trained for months by running. She also raised more than $3,000 for the trip, half of which goes directly back to SOMT.

For her fundraising efforts, Torch Run officials presented her with a torch exactly like the one the team ran with, which she plans to mount in her bedroom.

In addition to the torch, Shockley brought home plenty of other goodies, gifts for family and souvenirs. In accordance with South Korean custom, she exchanged gifts — in her case, small clocks built by her grandfather or local candy — with each host.

She brought back a duffel bag full of Special Olympics clothing, dishes, baubles, the torch and a few pieces of jewelry, some of which she gave to family and friends.

Shockley said the experience is one she'll never forget and she'll share her story with friends, family and other athletes.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," she said. "It's not like they just throw your name in a hat and then draw it out. Even if I could (go again), I'd let somebody else have the chance."

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