By Ronald C. Ruecker, Director of Public Safety, City of Sherwood, Oregon
ach year, officers from around the world are privileged to take part in a truly unique event. They join with thousands of their colleagues to raise public awareness as well as funds and to support the athletes who participate in the Special Olympics. They accomplish this by participating in the Torch Run for the Special Olympics.
The Special Olympics has been a joyful part of international athletics since 1968, when the first games were held at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Those first games in Chicago drew 1,000 athletes from throughout the United States and Canada. Today, the Special Olympics has grown into a global movement of 2.5 million athletes representing 165 nations. As they compete, Special Olympians build discipline, enthusiasm, and self-confidence. Parents, neighbors, teachers, and friends follow their achievements, while the Olympians’ countries look on with pride.
The Torch Run is an international series of relays by law enforcement officers to raise money for the Special Olympics. A Torch Run is held each year in every state throughout the United States and in several countries around the world. The Torch Run is the Special Olympics’ largest grassroots fundraiser, with proceeds going directly to the state or nation where they were generated.
The Torch Run began in 1981, when Richard LaMunyon, chief of police in Wichita, Kansas, saw an urgent need to raise funds for and increase awareness about the Special Olympics. He saw the idea for the Torch Run as a way to involve local law enforcement personnel with the community and with the Special Olympics. After three years of successful runs in Kansas, Chief LaMunyon presented the program to the IACP.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the IACP’s involvement with the Torch Run, and I am proud to report that today more than 85,000 law enforcement officials in 35 countries proudly serve as “guardians of the flame.”
The Torch Run is an experience that benefits not only the Special Olympics and its athletes but also the officers who participate, the departments for which they work, and the communities they serve. Participating in the Torch Run strengthens the camaraderie of officers within an agency and between different agencies in a given state; it also creates a positive community image for an agency and its officers.
At the urging of IACP first vice president Russell Laine, who is one of the IACP’s most fervent supporters of the Torch Run, my own involvement with the event began recently. Initially, my support was limited to encouraging and authorizing the members of the Oregon State Police to participate in the Torch Run. But today, I am proud to serve on the board of directors for Special Olympics Oregon. I must say that my experience with the Torch Run has been one of the more gratifying experiences of my law enforcement career. Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the opening ceremonies for the Special Olympics Oregon Summer Games. Watching the more than 1,100 athletes proudly enter the stadium during the parade of athletes, witnessing their excitement and their joy as the torch was lit, was very inspiring. It was clear that these athletes and the more than 100 participating volunteer police officers were having the time of their lives.
Participating in this event was truly one of the most inspiring moments of my life. My only regret is that I did not get involved with the Torch Run sooner. I urge you not to make the same mistake. There is still time to get involved this year. Torch Run events are under way across the United States and around the world. Besides the actual Torch Run relay, there are many other ways that law enforcement officers and their agencies help raise funds and awareness for the Special Olympics. For example, in my home state of Oregon, police officers participate in the Tip a Cop program, where officers work as servers in local restaurants, and the tips they get from customers go to the Special Olympics. Other departments participate in “polar bear plunges” or an event called Cops on Top, where officers raise funds by “staking out” local businesses by patrolling their rooftops.
Please take this opportunity to get involved, because I truly believe that the Torch Run symbolizes not only hope but also the mission of the law enforcement profession. As U.S. First Lady Laura Bush stated at a White House ceremony honoring the Torch Run last year, “The Torch Run reflects the work these officers do every day. Our law enforcement officers protect the rights and dignity of each person, and they make our communities welcoming places, where everyone can make the most of his or her talents.” ■