BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The Vikings joined hundreds in celebrating the Thursday night arrival of the Special Olympics Torch into the Rotunda at the Mall of America.
Cheers and a "U-S-A!, U-S-A!" chant rose from the main floor up to the towering ceiling as streamers fluttered down. The stirring moment was part of a cross-country trek as the torch travels from the East Coast to Los Angeles, which will host nearly 7,000 athletes from around the globe beginning with an opening ceremony on July 25.
General Manager Rick Spielman shared with the crowd what Special Olympics means to him, his wife Michele and their youngest daughter Whitney, a 15-year-old with cerebral palsy who is a multisport Special Olympian.
"The Minnesota Vikings have been proud sponsors of Special Olympics Minnesota athletes for more than 20 years," Spielman said. "These special athletes and the passion they play with and dedication, their sportsmanship should be an inspiration to all of us in this building tonight."
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Spielman's wife and daughter joined him on stage as he explained how much of a joy it is to them to see Whitney compete in downhill skiing, figure skating and baseball.
"She thinks she's a professional bowler, even though she's at 145 right now, and she goes to boxing class with dad on Saturday mornings," he added as she smiled brightly.
"With the position I'm in, I get an opportunity to see some of the best athletes in the world compete on a big stage at a very high level," Spielman said. "Me personally, when I get an opportunity to see my daughter and her fellow athletes compete and the passion they show, the dedication they show, the sportsmanship they show, it's the most inspirational thing in my life when I get a chance to watch them play."
Vikings punter Jeff Locke and Ring of Honor members Matt Blair and Joey Browner joined Spielman in passing the torch down the line after it was delivered by members of the law enforcement community and additional sponsors of Special Olympics. Viktor the Viking and Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders Blair and Kaitlyn joined to show their support and have fun taking pictures with the crowd.
"All of us here want to wish the Special Olympics Minnesota athletes good luck and have a great competition," Spielman said.
The event also included an on-stage spotlighting by Timberwolves President Chris Wright of the unified Minnesota basketball team that will represent the United States at the world games next month; a speech from Twins legend and eight-time All-Star Tony Oliva; and performance by Lennon and Maisy, the singing sister duo from the hit show, Nashville.
The Special Olympics Minnesota Summer Games launched Thursday and run through Saturday in Stillwater. Click here for more information.
JERSEY PRESENTATION: Earlier Thursday, on the Vikings final day of minicamp, Spielman presented a jersey to and welcomed a special guest, Josh Benson, to practice.
Benson won the Courage Award at the 2015 Minnesota Football Honors Awards dinner* *and was invited by Spielman to practice after the GM learned how the Hinckley-Finlayson High School running back helped save Benson's girlfriend from injury in an ATV accident in which Benson was paralyzed.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson also welcomed Benson to practice and encouraged him to persevere through his physical therapy.
"I just let him know that God has the final say so in everything," Peterson said when asked during his media session. "I asked what they told him when he left and they told him he wouldn't be able to move anything below his waist and I see him moving his leg now so it's just keeping his mind focused on God and having faith he can walk again, letting him know it's not going to be easy. It's going to be tough days, but as long as you stay focused and it's something you want to accomplish, you can accomplish that."
LOCKE'S APPROACH SHOT:Locke will be continuing his community commitment Friday when he participates in a golf marathon that takes advantage of extended daylight for teeitupforthetroops.org. Locke was born in Germany while his father was serving in the U.S. Air Force and is back after raising more than $2,400 in the inaugural event last year.
This year, he raised his fundraising goal to $5,000 by June 30, and had raised $3,000 as of Thursday night at this fundraising page. In addition to fitting in as many golf shots as possible Friday, Locke also will be a guest of Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen on the 9 to Noon show on KFAN and plans to be active on Twitter (@jefflocke18) during the outing.
— Jeff Locke (@jefflocke18) June 19, 2015