Special Olympics athlete Taneaolya Hueth, 23, of Great Falls, was beaming on Thursday as she carried the Special Olympics Flame of Hope to the end of its 10th Montana leg in front of the state Capitol.
“I felt so good. It felt heartbreaking I couldn’t carry it any longer,” Hueth said.
“It made me proud,” she added.
The Flame of Hope that passed through Helena on Thursday is on its way to the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles that begin on July 25.
The flame’s journey began when it was lit in Athens, Greece. When it landed on the East Coast of the United States, the flame was split between three torches, which will travel through all 50 states before being reunited on the West Coast.
About 7,000 athletes from 177 nations will compete in 25 different sports at this year’s games, according to Bob Norbie, who is Special Olympics Montana’s president and chief executive officer, though he prefers to go by chief executive fan.
The U.S. will have about 300 athletes at the games, he continued, six of whom are from Montana.
All the Montana athletes received gold medals at the state games in Missoula and were then drawn from a lottery for the opportunity to compete at the world games.
Jessica Tomsheck from Shelby will be competing in Unified Bocce with her Unified Partner Krystal McDougall of Dillon.
Tomsheck said she’s pretty excited for the opportunity to represent Montana at the games. So excited, in fact, she knew immediately that only 24 days were left until she could depart for the games.
She said she and Krystal have been practicing in anticipation.
“My favorite part is meeting different people from different parts of the world,” she said.
In addition to Tomsheck, Wynter Gazzero, from the Great Falls Hornets, and Dakota Shaffer of Billings will compete in gymnastics.
Jessica Massey from the Smelter City All Stars team in Anaconda is going to compete in kayaking, and Amie Opie from the Silver Bow DD Council Team in Butte is going to compete in cycling.
The team is topped off with Patrick Yerman of the Central Montana Eagles team in Lewistown.
Norbie said the Montana portion of the torch run has raised $17,000 so far for Special Olympics.
“We are making a world of difference right here in Montana,” he said.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said at the event that the athletes and volunteers that come out of Montana are “second to none in the world.”
“It’s so great that the Unified relay would come through our state capital,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Angela McLean took the podium with Hueth and said that all of Montana’s Special Olympics athletes are an everyday source of inspiration.
“The Special Olympics athletes across the Big Sky state are extraordinary. They are exceptional athletes,” she said.
When they head to Los Angeles at the end of next month, McLean said she has no doubt the athletes will represent the best Montana has to offer.
“Go get ‘em, Montana Special Olympians,” she said.
Norbie said Duane Luterbach of Billings is going to the games to serve as an aquatics official and Lisa Hunter of Deer Lodge is going to carry the Flame of Hope during the final leg of the run into the opening ceremonies.