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Leslie Billinger explains how she prepared to carry the weight of the Olympic torch. She ran a quarter of a mile on Day 52 in Oxford. Lolita Lopez reports July 9, 2012 for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m.
Leslie Billinger immediately took on an athlete's work ethic after discovering she had been chosen to carry the Olympic torch in England.
"I've been practicing like holding the torch and waving," said Billinger, who lives in Marina del Rey.
"I've been filling my water bottle with rocks or sand whatever I have to simulate two and half pounds, so I've been jogging along, trying to catch my breath and holding the water bottle.”
While the Opening Ceremony starts on July 27, Billinger started her celebrations early when she ran a quarter of a mile on Day 52 in Oxford – a distance she describes as "down the football field four times plus a third."
She was one of 133 torchbearers covering 112.2 miles through 15 communities.
"I looked up and it was over," she said in phone conversation with NBC 4 after completing her leg of the relay.
She described thousands of adults and children who had camped out for hours waiting for the torch and flame to make their way through the area.
"The fact that they came out to see the flame and see me it's incredible; it's really kind of humbling," she said.
"The energy of the moment kind of took over," she added when asked if the feat took a toll on her.
In her training, the self-proclaimed "non-jogger" had been using a four-pound torch from the Salt Lake City Olympics lent to her by a colleague at Coca Cola who received the honor 10 years ago.
"So the 2012 torch is a bit different,” Billinger said. “So it's going to have 8,000 perforated circles and those circles represent the 8,000 people who are going to carry this torch across Great Britain. One of the benefits of the circles is that it's light; it's going to be like 2 1/2 pounds.”
Those thousands of people are beacons of inspiration and have been nominated to be part of the Olympic flame's 70-day journey to the Opening Ceremony.
Catherine Castaneda knew her friend and coworker was the perfect person to represent the company, the city and the country. She wrote a 150-word nomination essay. Coca Cola selected 22 Americans to carry the Olympic flame.
"She has an amazing spirit, one in which she likes to give on a continual basis every day," Castaneda said.
Billinger, an 18-year Coca Cola veteran and currently a marketing manager, is on the board of directors of the Venice Boys and Girls Club and actively works with youth in the area.
"They get so many experiences. In Venice we have an art studio, a film studio you know so many resources. And it's the work that I do there that really warms my heart," Billinger said.
Billinger said the meaning behind her run also makes her heart pitter patter.
"When I was growing up we always watched the Olympics; it was a wonderful time of year and for that brief moment you think there's world peace," Billinger said.
Billinger passed the flame into a lantern which was then carried in a celebration through Oxford. From there, Torrance-native, Olympic figure skater and two-time medalist Michelle Kwan continued the journey.