It all started when the running shoes began to pile up in Jillian Roberts’ closet.
Now, Roberts is a part of the international 8,000-member team that will carry the Olympic torch through the U.K. and end at the opening ceremony July 27.
As a cross-country and track runner at Miami’s Coral Reef High School, Roberts, a 19-year-old UF communication sciences and disorders sophomore, ran right through her blue Asics sneakers.
But the pile in the back of her closet five years ago has grown to 8,700, which is the number of shoes she has collected and donated to One World Running, a Boulder, Colo.-based project that collects and cleans shoes for the world’s shoeless.
“Any shoe,” Roberts said. “You name it, I’ve collected it.”
She said she got new sneakers about every six months but didn’t want to trash the old pairs. One day, she said, she wondered why she didn’t collect her old shoes for those who are less fortunate.
Jillian Roberts’ sister Emily Roberts, a 20-year-old UF communication sciences and disorders and psychology senior, nominated her sister to be a torchbearer.
She was chosen by Coca-Cola to be an American torchbearer.
The company is also sponsoring the international Olympic torch relay, Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kamari Guthrie said.
After Jillian Roberts mentioned the contest to her family, Emily Roberts said she wanted to write her little sister’s nomination.
In March, Jillian Roberts checked her mailbox at Hume Hall. She said she jumped and ran around the dorm when she read the letter that told her she was among 22 Americans to bear the torch, including ice skater Michelle Kwan and swimmer Summer Sanders, both former Olympians.
Emily Roberts said her sister called her and they screamed over the phone together.
Jillian Roberts will run with the Olympic torch for 300 meters, which is about three and a half football fields long, on July 10 in Slough, England, a town between Oxford and London.
Coca-Cola will pay for the sisters to stay in Oxford July 9 to 11.
Jillian Roberts said she remembers crowding around the living room television at home with her sisters, younger brother and parents to watch the Olympics ever since she was young and can’t wait to experience it firsthand.
“I still am in shock. Like, this is for real,” Jillian Roberts said. “It’s something that I am only going to be able to do once in my life, and I’m going to look back on my past in 20 or 30 years from now and feel proud of myself.”