Having recently completed our annual Torch Run for Special Olympics in Solon, I was excited to see the enthusiasm and support for the program. We had a beautiful day, citizens and coworkers came out to support us, and I was able to raise a fair amount of donations for my participation. It also became apparent through some of the social media feedback that there are still many who do not know what this program is, or how it works.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) for Special Olympics is a fundraising arm and awareness vehicle specifically for the Special Olympics, that was created and is maintained by police officers. Every state has an LETR counterpart to their Special Olympics program, as do many countries around the world. Every year each state has a Torch Run in the days leading up to their Special Olympic Games to raise money and awareness about their program. These events involve officers and their families and friends, as well as Special Olympic athletes and their family and friends, to create a group of very passionate individuals with a great cause. The Torch Run culminates at the opening ceremonies where the torch, having been ushered around the state for a week or more, is brought to the ceremony in the “Final Leg Run” and used to light the cauldron, signifying the official beginning of the games.
The idea of the Torch Run dates back to 1981 in Wichita, Kansas, where five officers approached their then-chief, Richard La Munyon, with an idea to raise money for some of the families in the local Special Olympics. Chief La Munyon loved the idea and the Law Enforcement Torch Run was born, raising about $300 that first year. After three successful years, Chief La Munyon approached the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and convinced them to endorse the Torch Run nationally. Today all 50 states and more than 26 countries participate involving more than 97,000 police officers. Various fundraising platforms have been created under the umbrella of LETR including Polar Bear Plunges, Tip-a-Cop events, and Cop on Rooftop events. Since its inception, the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics has raised over $600 million dollars.
So if you ever find yourself behind a slow moving procession of police officers carrying a torch, know that they are working to provide for the many people with intellectual disabilities. Together with the athletes, family, and friends, they are making a statement for inclusion the whole world can hear.