Dunwoody businesswoman Rebecca Williamson didn’t compete in athletic events at the just-finished London Summer Olympics, but she had a golden moment during a pre-games celebration on July 1 when she was an Olympic Torchbearer in Birmingham, England.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Williamson. “I was grateful and humbled to be nominated and honored to be selected.”
Carrying the London 2012 Olympic Torch was a reward for the torchbearers’ generosity and selflessness in their local communities. The selection committee searched for young people or those who have stories to inspire young people.
Eight thousand Torchbearers carried the Olympic Flame through more than 1,000 United Kingdom communities in 70 days leading up to the start of the London Games on July 27. The Olympic Torch Relay brought the Flame to within one hour of 95 percent of people in the UK. Lit in Greece, the Olympic Flame arrived in the UK on May 18.
The majority of torchbearers – 7,200 – were members of the public selected through nomination methods conducted by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and the three main Olympic sponsors, Samsung, Coca-Cola and Lloyds TSB. The International Olympic Committee reserved some positions; remaining slots were allotted to sponsors for distribution within their corporations.
Williamson, a manager in the design and construction department of Dunwoody-based InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), was nominated by co-workers Eric Voogd and Daryl LeDuc. Holiday Inn, a division of IHG, is an Olympics sponsor in the supplier and provider category.
“When Rebecca came into my office the morning she got the big news, she had the biggest smile on her face,” Voogd said. “I could really see how much it meant to her. Selfless individuals like Rebecca do not need special recognition to continue their charitable work but it certainly feels good to know that you are appreciated and it was evidenced that day in her smile. We all know about the great work she does for others and there was a strong belief that she was well-deserving of the recognition.”
In their nomination statement, Voogd and LeDuc described Williamson as a “bundle of energy who always makes time to help others and to give back to the community.” The organizations with which she is involved include Junior Achievement, Back Pack in the Park, CANstruction and Junior League. As a member of IHG’s GROW Volunteer Board, she organized many activities for her department, for example, Global Soap Project, Meals on Wheels and Special Olympics Summer Games of Georgia.
Williamson singles out Junior Achievement, which offers teens hands-on experiences to prepare for success in a global economy, as a high point of her volunteerism. “It’s important to help our youth see their potential,” she said. “They are our future.” Under Williamson’s guidance, IHG annually hosts a JA team that starts, grows, markets and sells a company in a 20-week period.
Williamson has her own experience as an entrepreneur. She and business partner, Patti Simpson, opened Bellissimo Accessories in Shops of Dunwoody in November 2011, just six months after conceiving the idea. “We were just talking one day about opportunities, brain-storming ideas,” Williamson said. “We made decisions to make things happen.”
Williamson and Simpson, a nurse practitioner, handle the business end while three employees work in the shop.
Williamson said she was treated like a celebrity during her 900-meter (slightly more than half-mile) jog holding the torch aloft. Her arrival by bus was greeted by citizens calling out her name and asking to have their photo taken with her. As the previous torch relay runner approached Williamson, a “torch kiss” ignited her flame from the other, signaling the start of her run. “The crowd was six-deep, cheering you on,” Williamson said. “I’m running with the torch and these people are here to watch me. It was an amazing feeling.”
After each torchbearer finished, torches were extinguished, the fuel source removed and the fuel line severed. torchbearers keep their torch. Williamson’s is on display at Bellissimo and is an attraction for customers.
Williamson and her husband spent a week before and after her run vacationing in the UK, and came home even before the Summer Games began. Like the rest of the world, she watched many events on television and described the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies as “spectacular.”
Since her return she has visited Dunwoody Christian Academy with the torch to talk to children about her experience and hopes to visit others now that school is back in session.