Empowering athletes: Marquette runs for Special Olympics cause

Neil+Flavin

Neil Flavin

Von Lanier

Police officers and community members alike participated in a Torch Walk/Run last night as part of a larger annual movement to raise funds and spread public awareness for the Special Olympics and people with intellectual disabilities.

Carl White, a retired police captain from the Michigan Department of Corrections and executive committee member for the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) organization, coordinated the event with Ken Love, training coordinator for NMU Public Safety and Police Services.

“We raise specifically for the athletes to attend summer, fall or winter games and it will also help to cover the costs to send any athletes to the international games in Abu Dhabi next year,” White said. “So all the money that we raise makes sure that these athletes can go to these events and it doesn’t cost them or their families a penny.”

The Flame of Hope, a torch carried by Special Olympics athletes and supporters ahead of Opening Ceremony at the Special Olympics state, national, Regional and World Games, was carried from the Superior Dome to the Jacobetti Complex. The weeklong event started with a community run in Menominee and will end with a final run in Sault Ste. Marie at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 13.

In the Upper Peninsula alone, there are 192 athletes who are potential qualifiers for the games, White said. Athletes like Paula Vincent, a Marquette native who plans to participate in the Special Olympics for cycling, are the benefactors of the fundraising event.

Vincent said she thinks the Torch Run is important because it helps herself and other athletes get to do the different sports and games that would otherwise be a financial setback for her family.

LETR began in 1981 when a police chief from Kansas created the Torch Run, believing it would help law enforcement become more active in the community, to support Special Olympics Kansas. In 1983, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) decided to endorse Torch Run thus creating the “Founding Law Enforcement Organization.” Since receiving the IACP’s support, LETR has become the largest public awareness and fundraising group for Special Olympics.

“The main reason is it gives law enforcement an opportunity to not only have a cause but to be out there in the public eye doing a positive thing like the firefighters when they ‘Fill the Boot’ for muscular dystrophy,” White said.

Every Michigan county has an annual Torch Run and every state has a Special Olympics Program. Since it’s creation, Torch Run has amplified over the years and now includes many fundraising platforms like Plane Pulls, Polar Plunges, Tip-A-Cops and more. Since 1968, LETR has raised over $600 million for Special Olympics programs nationwide.

“As an organization for [LETR] in Michigan, for the past five years we have raised over $1 million each year. This year we are on pace to surpass $1.5 million,” White said.

LETR will host a Polar Plunge at Marquette Mountain on March 18, 2017 with hopes of receiving more than the $13,000 in donations from last year’s plunge, White said. For more information about Special Olympics events or LETR go to tinyurl.com/yaardft7.