Leslie Billinger and Debra Toney give back to their communities in a big way; still they were surprised to be selected to be part of the torch relay for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

On Monday, each woman will run a leg of the relay as part of Coca-Cola’s 22-member torch relay team, selected for their commitment to community service and active, healthy living.

Billinger, a Senior Shopper Marketing Manager for Coca-Cola, from Marina Del Rey, Calif., was nominated by co-worker and friend Catherine Castaneda for the torch relay.

She said she was honored to be nominated, but thought “there are lots of people who do tremendous work for the planet and the community” who had a better shot of being chosen.

 “In December, I found out I was a finalist…and I still didn’t think I would be selected,” Billinger told “Then when I found out in the spring that I was selected, I was absolutely shocked.”

A volunteer for the Boys & Girls Club of America’s (BGCA), Billinger persuaded her employer to develop basketball tournaments for all 28 BGCA clubs in Los Angeles County.

She also serves on the board of the Venice California BGCA and has worked on several committees. She is currently co-chairing the Coca-Cola ‘Live Positively’ Basketball Tournament, a fundraising event in its third year that hosts more than 500 kids.

She also has worked with the Big Sister, “Each One, Teach One” mentorship program and has served on the Advisory Board of the Los Angeles Professional Women in Sports and Events (WISE), and was recently honored with its “Women of the Year Award.”   

Billinger says she just hunkers down and does what she believes needs to be done and doesn’t think about being noticed for her work.

“It’s the small bites, sometimes, that make the difference for a community as long as they’re consistent,” Billinger said.

Debra Toney agrees.

“That’s really it. I’ve been a nurse for 30 years and that’s who I am. Everything is going to come around to that and the grassroots efforts,” said Toney, Ph.D., RN, president of the National Black Nurses Association.

Toney is also president and owner of TLC Health Care Services in Las Vegas, which provides skilled home healthcare and personal care services at six locations across Las Vegas. She also is a member of numerous medical organizations within Nevada and serves on the Nominating Group for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“My thinking was similar to Leslie’s. How did I get selected? It’s just really about the work and being able to impact people in a positive way with screenings, health fairs, advancing health police on (Capitol) Hill.”

The 70-day torch relay leading up to the Olympic games in London, sponsored in part by Coca-Cola, began May 19, with 8,000 people carrying the Olympic Flame through more than 1,000 towns, villages and cities. Coca-Cola selected and sponsored a contingent, covering the travel expenses to the relay. Background information on each of the runners is available at

Each leg of the relay is about a quarter-mile long and participants can walk, run or combine both. Billinger said the torch bearers tend to walk and trot to interact with bystanders who line the route to cheer on the runners.

As Monday nears and she watches the video stream, the excitement builds.

“It’s just when I’m looking at all the festivities and the excitement and celebration and the people coming out in the rain, out there for hours taking pictures and celebrating.”

Toney will run her leg in Kirtlington. She plans to spend some time there and in London before swinging through Paris on her way back home. Billinger will run in Oxford and she will stay there for a few days and then visit London before returning to the U.S. after July 15.

Both women say they hope the run will inspire others to become physically active and to volunteer in their communities.

“I really hope that message gets through,” Toney said, “because for me that is the take-home message…It really has to be about serving, from my perspective. It has to be about something bigger than ourselves.”

To watch live streaming of the relay, visit


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