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Special Olympics Florida partners with Publix to support athletes in Florida and beyond

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Special Olympics Florida
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Special Olympics Florida and Publix Super Markets are uniting once again for the Torch Icon Campaign which raises funds for thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities.

As Special Olympics Florida gears up for its 50th Anniversary, we're finding out how campaign brings together Publix associates, customers, and local communities to support more than 60,000 Special Olympics athletes in Florida and beyond.

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Since 1993, more than $60 million dollars has been raised through the Torch Icon Campaign, helping Special Olympics athletes to develop their physical and mental wellness, while working to enrich their futures with job training and life skill development.

Special Olympics Florida President and CEO Sherry Wheelock says that Publix is a beneficial partner because the organization believes in the athlete’s abilities.

“For many, many years, Publix has really always been a true supporter of community initiatives and obviously their ability to see the Special Olympics as an important part of the community," said Wheelock. "They were truly visionaries, I think, and pioneers in that aspect of diversity and inclusion through their acceptance of our athletes and really believing in their talent.”

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The Torch Icon Campaign helps provide access to sports training and pays competition fees, but beyond that, funds raised through the campaign provide health exams, health equipment, and professional development.

“On a typical year, we would do nearly 13,000 health exams for our athletes," said Wheelock. "We provide prescription glasses, prescription goggles. We have done hearing aid vouchers for athletes. Then we’ve also expanded, because of public generosity, our leadership opportunities.”

Wheelock says being able to offer these resources helps athletes not only on the playing field, but outside the sports arena as well.

Every Special Olympics athlete participates for free. Donations by individuals make up a large portion of the game's annual budget.

David Johnson is 38-years-old and has been a Special Olympics Florida athlete for the last 24 years. He was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth. David has won 33 medals in golf and tennis. Just last month, he scored another gold medal at the Florida golf tournament in Orlando.

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David Johnson competing in the State Golf Tournament in Orlando. December 2021

He says his love of sport and making friends is what keeps him coming back to compete.

“I like sports and getting exercise and meeting new people,” said David.

The motto of the Special Olympics is, "let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." And to David, that is the definition of true sportsmanship.

“It means to do your best and to help others to do their best too,” said David. "If you don’t win, it’s okay. You did the best you could.”

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David Johnson won the gold medal at the State Golf Tournament in Orlando. December 2021

David is also an employee of Publix. He started in 2015 as a front end customer service clerk. He says working for Publix helps him feel more independent.

“I work hard and I get paid so I can live independently in my own condo,” said David.

David’s mother Joyce Johnson joined me on the phone with David. She says the Special Olympics Florida partnership with Publix allows families to provide opportunities they might not have been able to otherwise.

“There are some people that just don’t have the capability of paying for those types of things, so it’s just been a wonderful opportunity not only for us, but for other parents throughout the state and throughout Lee County, to provide that opportunity for their child,” said Johnson.

Now through January 16, Publix customers can help support their state athletes with a donation for as little as $1, and in turn, shoppers will receive coupons courtesy of Procter & Gamble.

The Special Olympic Games take place June 5 through 12 in Orlando Florida.

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