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Flame of Hope Touches Communities, Lives as it Travels Across N.C.

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FAYETTEVILLE — TheSpecial OlympicsFlame of Hope continues its journey around the state. Tuesday it visited more than 20 cities and towns. Along the way, the flame is touching communities and lives.

As the torch made its way to Fayetteville, Special Olympics athletes from the Netherlands and Belgium experienced an American street party they will never forget.

Flags were flying and feet were stomping to welcome the torch Tuesday morning. It was a celebration of everything the Flame of Hope represents.

"Their faces, smiles, hugs inspire me," one spectator said.

As the flame came into view, the dancing stopped and the excitement grew.

Margreet Reinders, a police officer from the Netherlands, carried the torch into downtown Fayetteville for everyone to admire.

"This is wonderful," says Reinders. "Yesterday we met people from Russia and El Salvador, but this is special to me because I can speak my own language for a while and really get the message through."

Special Olympics athletes say the message is to have fun.

"She came mainly to play, not necessarily to win," says Rabia Merri, a World Games athlete. "She's here for the games and to have a good time."

As the torch left town, the fun did not stop. A group of athletes requested a trip to the mall. From Mickey Mouse to music, their shopping lists were long!

The celebration in Fayetteville was one of six major events on the final leg of the torch run.

Wednesday, the torch makes stops in more than 15 cities and towns in and around Charlotte.

The Flame of Hope will make its way to Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh on Saturday for the opening ceremonies of the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games.