As I walked into the Missouri meeting on the first night of the 2012 International LETR Conference, I saw several familiar faces, but mostly new faces filled the room. I started working for Special Olympics Missouri in June, so this was my first LETR Conference. Little did I know, the faces surrounding me played such an important role in making Special Olympics Missouri what it is today and what it will be in the future.
The first person I heard speak was Kurt Kendro at the Newcomer Orientation. He shared some fundraising ideas that are successful in his state, Hawaii, but he mostly spoke about LETR as a whole. He shared the “real” story of how LETR got started. In 1979, Richard LaMunyon had the idea for six law enforcement officers to run five miles in Kansas. Then in 1981, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® officially began.
During my first concurrent session, I learned about the history of the Torch Run. Did you know that in 2011, law enforcement around the world raised $42 million for Special Olympics? In my other concurrent sessions, I was able to hear about a variety of fundraisers including Unified Triathlons, Showdown of the Shields, Skeet Shooting and Free the Fuzz. All of these events wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for our dedicated law enforcement. They spend countless hours planning, preparing, and hosting those events that benefit Special Olympics athletes.
Since 1981, law enforcement has raised $414,000,000! To be honest, I had no idea just how much the Law Enforcement Torch Run® financially supported Special Olympics. However, I did know that law enforcement loves Special Olympics athletes, and Special Olympics athletes love law enforcement. The athletes enjoy competing in various sports, making new friends, improving their athletic skills, and most importantly receiving medals from the highly respected law enforcement officers of their area. This was displayed throughout all of the pictures during the conference. During the slideshows, it was simple to see that law enforcement impacts our athletes every day. One of my favorite pictures was of an athlete and law enforcement officer holding the torch high in the air together; they both had smiles a mile wide.
Law enforcement is the top fundraiser for Special Olympics worldwide. Even though they are great financial supporters, law enforcement does so much more than just fundraising. Special Olympics and LETR are working together to increase awareness through the Military Initiative Worldwide. They are becoming Unified Partners. Law enforcement officers are making a difference in the lives of athletes and leading by great example in the community.
I enjoyed listening to many exceptional speakers at the conference. Jason Plante, a Special Olympics Indiana athlete who attends Purdue University was one of my favorites. His pursuit for knowledge is remarkable. Hearing Carl Erskine’s story gave me chills up my back. For those of you who aren’t big baseball fans, he pitched in five World Series during his career. He also has a child who is an athlete for Special Olympics Indiana. Every single person who took the stage had a fascinating story to tell that brought joy to my heart.
Sunday morning came too soon. It was time for me to make the drive back to good ‘ol St. Louis. Even though everyone was parting ways and heading back to their hometowns, I am confident a spark was planted in each individual. That spark will create a flame and that flame will be what makes the torch shine brightly in every law enforcement officer for all to see.
As I was sitting in the car, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky Special Olympics is to have such an inspiring partnership with law enforcement. The people I met during my time in Indianapolis are extraordinary individuals who believe in Special Olympics and want to make a difference in our movement. A quote I heard on Friday morning was running through my head, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Law enforcement and Special Olympics are going far together.
Thank you law enforcement for all you do and growing Special Olympics worldwide.
Ellen Coots is the Development Assistant for St. Louis Metro Area. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.