Ocean View native carries Olympic torch through England


For making a positive difference in her community and inspiring others, Ocean View resident Marisa Grimes — a 2010 graduate of Worcester Preparatory School — was one of 10 teenagers from across the United States selected by Coca-Cola to be an Olympic Torchbearer in the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

Coca-Cola chooses teens who embody its “Live Positively” philosophy — healthy, active living; community service; and environmental stewardship and conservation.

Those who nominated a teen visited www.LivePositively.com and submitted an essay that expressed, in 150 words or less, why that teen was a champion of living positively. Teens, ages 13-18, were nominated in categories related to each of the three elements of the “Live Positively” philosophy.

“To represent the U.S. on the world’s stage as a London 2012 Olympic Torchbearer is an honor shared by local dignitaries, Olympic athletes, celebrities and everyday people whose extraordinary efforts are changing the world,” Celeste Bottorff, vice president of Living Well, Coca-Cola North America, said in a press release.

“Coca-Cola is thrilled to shine the spotlight on our country’s most exceptional teens as they carry the London 2012 Olympic Flame. We hope the teens’ achievements and commitment to living positively will inspire others to make a difference in their communities too.”

Grimes received several nominations, but it was Michelle DiFebo Freeman’s recommendation that piqued the judges’ attention.

“Marisa is a young woman who — whether we needed the time or needed volunteers — has always put her hand up and said, ‘I will help.’ You just don’t meet many people in your life who have that ingrained in them,” said Freeman, president and chair of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation.

“That runs deep in Marisa. Whether it is hurricane relief in Alabama or an orphanage in Africa or working at the Freeman Stage, this remarkable young woman is constantly there and willing to help. She stands out and certainly is deserving of representing America’s youth as an Olympic Torchbearer.”

Grimes was nominated in August 2011. In October, she received a call from Freeman, telling her she had advanced to the next round of the contest. In December, Freeman notified Grimes that she was one of the 10 teens chosen by Coca-Cola. Grimes was not permitted to reveal that she had been picked until May.

“I had forgotten about the whole contest. I didn’t even think I was in the running,” Grimes said. “I’m beside myself. I was so surprised and so happy. It’s such a big honor to represent America’s youth, and I’m grateful that Coca-Cola chose me.”

The trip for each of the selected teens includes airfare, ground transportation, spending money and hotel accommodations for three days and two nights near Oxford, England, for them and a guest. They represent eight states and 14 charities and organizations.

The London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay began May 19, and will travel 12,800 kilometers throughout the United Kingdom for 70 days, concluding at the opening ceremony in London on July 27.

Grimes, who is one of 8,000 people from all over the world who will carry the torch, left for England on July 7, accompanied by her mother, Patti, her father, Marc, and best friend, Madison Kyger.

“Marc and I are excited to witness this unbelievable experience that Marisa will have when she carries the Olympic torch. Marisa is passionate about her causes and embraces every opportunity to promote and fundraise to help these organizations,” said Patti Grimes, who is also director of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, prior to their departure.

“Although she is fairly humble, Marisa is taking this opportunity to promote her causes as she represents the USA as an Olympic torchbearer. Her father and I are proud that she can advance awareness of her philanthropic efforts and at the same time enjoy her moment to shine as she carries the torch.”

On July 9, Grimes carried the Olympic flame for 300 meters through the town of Aylesbury. In the week before her trip, she said she was excited and looking forward to the adventure.

“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. Once I put on the Torchbearer track suit, I think it will feel more real,” the 19-year-old said June 29. “Everyone chosen for this has a remarkable story. I can’t wait to meet all these people and hear their stories.”

Grimes and her guests planned to extend their trip a week after her part in the relay and also travel to Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. The Auburn University junior has now visited 32 countries and has been to every continent except Antarctica. Her goal is to travel to 100 countries during her lifetime.

In the summer of 2008, Grimes traveled to Ghana as part of a Global Leadership Adventures trip. During her three-week venture, Grimes volunteered at the Bright Future orphanage, where she taught English to fifth-graders.

“There was only one textbook for my class, and I spent a lot of time copying information from the textbook on a chalkboard. There were also little to no school supplies or other teaching resources for the students,” Grimes said of the experience in April 2010.

Beginning at the age of 3, Grimes has been involved in numerous community-service efforts, including launching Operation Tumaini, which means hope in Swahili, to raise money to provide uniforms to a Kenyan school. Through fundraising efforts, her school and community raised more than $6,500 and provided 400 uniforms, among other necessities.

In 2011, as a college freshman at Auburn University, Grimes and her roommate sprang into action to help Alabama tornado victims. She created “All in for Alabama,” organizing and collecting donations in six states. Grimes drove a 26-foot commercial truck full of supplies from Pennsylvania to Alabama.

What she is most passionate about is her involvement with Building Bright Future, a non-profit organization that she created with several of her peers after their trip to Ghana.

“I’m currently focused on fundraising to better improve the state of the [Bright Future] orphanage and the education of the children,” she said.

On July 22, she plans to host a fundraiser at her home, with area businesses providing food and beverages, and the proceeds going to benefit the orphanage. Her goal is to raise $2,000 — the cost to feed the orphanage’s 103 children for one month. The cost to attend is $30 for adults and $15 for children. Call Grimes at (302) 258-6982 or e-mail her at meg0024@tigermail.auburn.edu for more information. Those who can’t attend but who want to donate can contact Grimes or visit buildingbrightfuture.org. To watch the torch relay live, visit www.london2012.com/torch-relay/video/live.html.