Eichelberger, Schwartze Inducted into SOMO Hall of Fame

On Jan. 1IMG_50537, Special Olympics Missouri announced that Central Area athlete Robb Eichelberger and Zim Schwartze, Director of 911 Emergency Communications and SOMO volunteer, would be inducted into the SOMO Hall of Fame this year. Eichelberger was surprised at the Boonville C & R where he works by family, friends and SOMO staff with the news. Schwartze was surprised at her office following a Games Management Team meeting for SOMO’s State Summer Games.

SOMO can induct up to two athletes and two non-athletes into the Hall of Fame each year.

Eichelberger and Schwartze were recognized alongside the newest inductees to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 29, including St. Louis Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman, Kansas City Royals outfielder Amos Otis, Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney, the Voice of the Missouri Tigers, Mike Kelly, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane (University of Central Missouri baseball), and former Mizzou football coach Warren Powers, among others.

Robb Eichelberger, Athlete
Robb got his start in Special Olympics Missouri when he was in high school in 1998 playing 3 on 3 unified basketball. He was one of the first athletes in Missouri to participate in unified sports. He helped recruit his younger brother, Adam, to be a unified partner. This was really the first time the two had done anything together and through unified sports they were able to form a stronger bond as brothers. From there, Robb grew his participation in sports and eventually became a National Champion in tennis in 2006 at the National Games in Ames, IA. Robb was chosen to compete at the 2011 World Games in tennis, but due to a back injury could not attend and now can only participate in certain sports. He and his golf partner, Ryan Brimer, have been competing together for more than 8 years.

IMG_4982Robb was elected to the SOMO Board of Directors in 2007. He fulfilled all requirements on the board from giving annually to SOMO to volunteering at events. In fact, he was the first SOMO board member in history to have PERFECT attendance. Mark Musso, SOMO President & CEO, created an award in his honor called the “Robb Eichelberger Perfect Attendance Award” which will be given from this point forward to a SOMO board member who has perfect attendance upon completing their term on the Board.

He was one of the first athletes to sign up for the Athlete Leadership Programs University in November 2015 so that he could expand his leadership skills. He chose the communication major so he could face his fear of public speaking in front of large groups.

If you go anywhere with Robb in the Boonville community, he knows everyone and everyone knows him. He has worked at the local grocery store for 16 years, is an active member of the Knights of Columbus, working bingo on Friday nights and is an active member of his church. He was awarded the 2016 Knight of the Year from his council.

Robb has set the bar for other athlete board members and is a true example of what Special Olympics Missouri does for our athletes.

Zim Schwartze, Volunteer
Zim began her passion for Special Olympics Missouri in 1995 through the Law Enforcement Torch Run. She has served in numerous leadership roles within SOMO including Games Management Teams and Plunge Committees. While her love for SOMO began in Columbia she didn’t let her move to Springfield stop her passion/need to be a part of SOMO. She jumped right in as the Games Management Team Chair for the State Summer Games held at Missouri State University and as a member of the Springfield Plunge Committee. She has worked to build a more prominent athlete program in Springfield.

IMG_4986She was recognized as the 2005 Letz award winner – the highest honor in Missouri’s LETR program – and her nominator couldn’t have said it any better when they said “Zim’s devotion to the mission of the Torch Run has resulted in continued significant fund raising both locally and statewide. She is an inspiration to the other officers and she herself is clearly motivated by the elation and pride that she instills in the athletes and all those who benefit from participating in Special Olympics.”

Zim was chosen among her peers to be the final leg runner at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Greece. Then in 2015, she was selected as a route runner for the Unified Relay Across America, running the torch from St. Louis to Colorado for the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles.

Zim’s spirit is contagious and she passes that along to those around her. SOMO athletes are Zim’s #1 priority, and they love her just as much as she loves them. There is nothing better than watching Zim squeal with joy when the athletes come up to give her a hug or a high five. She makes Missouri proud on a daily basis and SOMO is blessed to have her in our family.

For more information or to learn how you can support Special Olympics Missouri, contact Harrison McLean at mclean@somo.org. Information about the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Enshrinement can be found at www.mosportshalloffame.com.

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Officer Amanda Geno Named 2016 John Michael Letz Unsung Hero

We have many who are Torch Run enthusiasts; most we don’t know. We don’t know them because they don’t do the work for the recognition – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are usually in the background working to do more.

About this year’s recipient:

 Involved in the Torch Run for 7 years
 Is involved in fundraising in both local and statewide fundraising events
 Is the agency coordinator for their department, which has raised over $632,000 in the last 7 years
 Volunteers to hand out medals at both local and state events
 Volunteers at SOMO state events as an event manager
 Organizes a Torch Run in conjunction with local school field day events
 Serves on the local Polar Plunge committee and has been instrumental in growing this event to where it is today
 Serves as a Unified Partner and athlete mentor

In the words of the nominator: “This recipient always has a positive outlook and is always setting goals for not only the law enforcement officers but the athletes as well. This recipient is one of the most positive officers I have had the pleasure of working with.”

The 2016 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to Officer Amanda Geno of Lee’s Summit Police Department.

Law Enforcement Torch Run Celebrates 30th Anniversary: Part 3

Law enforcement officers serve selflessly every day to keep our communities safe places to live, work, and play. This year, we are celebrating a wonderful 30-year partnership with law enforcement in Missouri. How can you sum up 30 years? It’s not possible, but we can take a look back and try. What drives these officers? The constant light that Special Olympics athletes give through their inner and outer strength. Thank you to all of our law enforcement officers for your bravery every day in protecting us, and thank you for all your efforts to support our athletes.

30 years – one decade at a time

The final of a three–part series
Written by: Crystal Schuster – SOMO/LETR Development Manager

Read Part 1
Read Part 2

2006 – 2016: Many Milestones Hit and Many memories created
officers_timAlthough 2006 saw a hit, along with the rest of the word’s economy, officers still hit the pavement running. LETR funds raised dipped just under the $1million mark, but our officers never gave up. They sold over 21,000 t-shirts and added two new Polar Plunges to the mix – Branson and Kirksville. There was a photographer, in Jefferson City, that stepped forward and offered to do some photos for SOMO, and from that photo, a LETR poster was created that represented all agencies involved (PD’s, Sheriff’s Dept., MSHP, Corrections, Military Police) and showed them with their inspiration – a SOMO athlete.

In 2007, our LETR started seeing some new growth again by adding two more plunges – Cape Girardeau and St. Joseph – and they once again raised $1 million. This is also the year that Susan Stegeman, SOMO’s VP, was inducted into the International LETR Richard LaMunyon Hall of Fame!

red-w-banner2008-2009 saw growth yet again and our officers felt that there were more locations that could benefit from hosting a Polar Plunge. In these two years we added Polar Plunges in Louisiana (later moving to Hannibal), Columbia, Joplin, Mexico, and Maryland Heights. The Super Plunge was first introduced in 2008 as well. This event takes the Polar Plunge to new extremes by having Polar Bears Plunge 24 times in 24 hours! This event is held at Lake of the Ozarks and Kansas City. Officers increased their fundraising efforts tremendously in 2009 when they raised over $1.5 million. Part of this growth was due to a new, extreme event the officers decided to try in order to take their fundraising efforts to a whole new height – Over the Edge. This event still takes place in two markets today, St. Louis and Jefferson City, where “Edgers” rappel from the Jefferson Building and the Hyatt in downtown St. Louis. Also in 2009, LETR officers were honored to have Attorney General Chris Koster run with them in the final leg, in Springfield, although he felt that it was his honor to run amongst our LETR officers.

psa-taping-with-gov2010 was a memorable year, as officers celebrated the 25th annual Torch Run. Governor Nixon filmed a PSA in support of Missouri’s LETR and he welcomed runners back to the Capitol for a fun ceremony, after they recreated and ran the original torch run route. T-shirt sales went up in 2010, as it was a special shirt that represented every shirt that the officers had sold over the years.

In 2011-2014, new milestones were reached as officers pulled together like never before and raised over $2 million dollars consistently during these years. Events like Tip-a-Cops started expanding (and have continued to grow tremendously) and the Special Olympics message was being shared more and more. As the message spread, and athletes continued to inspire, our runner numbers grew – which meant we were consistently welcoming new officers into the LETR family. SOMO lost a great friend in 2011, SOMO athlete/hall of fame member, Gordon Barnes. Gordon spent a lot of time with his local LETR family in Jefferson City, and he never missed a Torch Run. Due to his contributions and support of his LETR family, the Jefferson City Torch Run route was officially named the “Gordon Barnes Memorial Route” in 2012. To this day, Gordon’s mom, Sarah, still comes to the run and supports her LETR family. She also volunteers to help at events whenever she can.

In 2015, LETR members in MO reached an all-time high for funds raised for Special Olympics MO – $2.5 million! Officers were commended for their efforts and were awarded with the Platinum award at the International Conference. During this same conference (which took place in Sept. of 2016), Chief Randy Boehm, Columbia PD, retired, was inducted into the International LETR Richard LaMunyon Hall of Fame.

Shop ‘n Save has remained an incredible partner through the years, and not a day goes by that we don’t appreciate all of their support. From Trivia Nights to Golf Tournaments and raising money through their “Round-up” promotions, they do whatever they can to support our officers and athletes.

Through these years, many deserving men and women received the highest award given in MO’s LETR – The Letz Award:
2006 – Sgt. Randy Werner, Jefferson City PD
2007 – Sgt. Rick Hayes, St. Louis Co PD
2008 – Capt. Don Spears, Belton PD
2009 – Lt. Jim McNiell, MHSP Troop E
2010 – Capt. Joseph Chapman, Kansas City PD
2011 – Officer Jeff Cook, O’Fallon PD
2012 – Sgt. Mark Koeller, St. Louis Co PD
2013 – Mark Wiesemann, Lee’s Summit PD
2014 – Sgt. Jeff Fugett, MSHP Troop D
2015 – Lt. Steve Davis – MSHP Troop I

As we end this 3rd decade of Missouri’s LETR, words simply cannot express our gratitude for all that Law Enforcement does. Through 2015, they have raised over $26.5 million dollars for the SOMO athletes. They don’t do it for the recognition or any glory they might receive. They do it because they see the impact that SOMO has on its athletes and the bond that they have with our athletes is truly inspiring. Law Enforcement officers go above and beyond for their communities every single day – but what they do for Special Olympics MO is indescribable. Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough, but on behalf of all 15,000 Special Olympics MO athletes, THANK YOU for being our HEROES!

Be Brave: Go Over the Edge!

Sandy KarstenFor Lt. Col. Sandy Karsten of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, rappelling 13 stories down the Jefferson State Office building is a way to be more like Special Olympics athletes, who practice courage every day.

“If they can do it, I can do it,” she says.

Karsten is referring to Over the Edge, an adrenaline-pumped event in which participants raise $1,000 to rappel down a prominent building. Proceeds benefit Special Olympics Missouri.

“Have you ever gotten a hug from a Special Olympics athlete? If you’ve ever presented a medal, you see how happy they are and you celebrate the success with them,” she says. “You see what your dollar does for those special people. It gives you a good feeling to support them.”

Karsten’s colleagues had been participating in the Polar Plunge for years, but she declined because she does not do well with cold water. When she heard about Over the Edge, she felt like this was a good opportunity to take a more active role in raising funds. While $1,000 can seem like a daunting amount, Karsten says it’s mostly a matter of talking to people.

“Don’t be afraid to ask people,” she says. “I wear Special Olympics apparel – it’s a great conversation starter while you’re standing in line at the grocery store. I talk about my involvement with the (Law Enforcement) Torch Run. I’ve gone to people we do business with and told them about Special Olympics being our charity of choice. Most people are eager to assist.”

She says her department has hosted trivia nights, dunking booths, bake sales and poker rallies. They try to infuse fun into raising money, which helps them look forward to the event each year.

SandyThe event is offered in St. Louis and Jefferson City each fall. This year, participants have the choice of rappelling down the Jefferson State Office Building on Oct. 15 or the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch on Oct. 29. Both venues offer spectacular views and the opportunity to see the cities from a unique perspective.

“If you’re brave enough to turn to the side, you can see the governor’s mansion and the river,” she says. “If you can stand to look down, you can see your supporters down there.”

This bravery mirrors the bravery that Special Olympics athletes display each time they step onto the playing field. They’re overcoming stigma of having an intellectual disability and decades upon decades of stereotypes that have oppressed people like them. Special Olympics gives them the opportunity to shine, showcase their abilities and be celebrated for who they are.

Rappelling down a tall building can seem daunting, especially for anyone who has a fear of heights. Karsten has some advice for putting yourself in the right mental space before a rappel. She practiced by doing a rock climbing wall at her local YMCA.

“For everyone, there is a short training session, and that’s when I get nervous,” she says. “But that leaves after you feel comfortable with the harness and trust the rigging.   When you get up on the wall to go down, you just remember your training, and gravity takes care of the rest.”

Karsten says that talking about the event afterward is important as well. She lets people know how much fun she had and ensures that her donors feel appreciated.

“Now that I’ve done it three times, people ask me, ‘Hey are you rappelling for Special Olympics again?  How much is needed to put you Over the Edge?’”

You can learn more and register to participate in Over the Edge at www.somo.org/edge.

Law Enforcement Torch Run Celebrates 30th Anniversary

1st poster photo - LuetkemeyerLaw enforcement officers serve selflessly every day to keep our communities safe places to live, work, and play. In partnership with Special Olympics Missouri, law enforcement officers are participating in the 30th Anniversary Law Enforcement Torch Run across our state.

Each year, more than 2,000 officers carry the torch on a relay through the state. The culmination of this incredible journey will take place at our State Summer Games in Springfield on May 20. The final torch will be handed off in celebration of 30 years and the constant light that Special Olympics athletes give through their inner and outer strength.

This beautiful symbol of unity brings together communities and individuals of different backgrounds and abilities to celebrate the best in each of us. We cherish the relationships that the Torch Run builds each year. Thank you to all of our law enforcement officers for your bravery every day in protecting us, and thank you for all your efforts in support of Special Olympics Missouri.

30 years – one decade at a time

(First in a three–part series)

1986: Ralph Biele was a patrolman with the Missouri State Highway Patrol trying to think of a way to raise money for Special Olympics. In 1984 and 1985, there was an annual “Missouri Run for Special Olympics.” For two years, about 100 runners raised about $4,500. He thought, “How can we make this bigger?” He knew he had the support of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who was integral from the beginning. They provided everything from financial donations from employees and photography support, to runners and support vehicles.

Watch Ralph describe the early days.

It wasn’t that it didn’t raise money – but they were working really hard and not getting very far. Ralph knew that in order to make it happen, he needed to get a more broad-based support. He approached the Missouri Police Chiefs Association about SOMO and growing the support from law enforcement. They voted in 1986 to make Special Olympics Missouri part of the Association’s efforts, and gave birth to the Law Enforcement Torch Run. The next five years hovered right around $40,000!

The first 5 years of LETR: runners, agencies, gross $
1986: 87, 35, $15,000
1987: 135, 40, $33,000
1988: 116, 40, $42,000
1989: 143, 42, $40,000
1990: 145, 44, $38,146

early years torch handoffHistory was captured in the spring edition of the Patrol News annually. Page 7 reported the results of the 5th annual run (1990), stating 44 police agencies participated and raised $40,000. Employees were encouraged to donate and “set an example” for others to follow. The MSHP was leading from the beginning.

During the seventh year, T-shirt sales were introduced and the Torch Run fundraising efforts expanded beyond the run itself. The idea was for agencies to host their own fundraising events and donate the proceeds to Special Olympics. These funds were literally brought to the site of the State Summer Games each year, held at Fort Leonard Wood. The Ramada Inn was the site of the pre-game meal, “fried fish and all of the trimmings,” hosted by Lou and Shirley Prentiss, retired Commanding General of the Fort. This was a long-running tradition. Even though runners didn’t like the idea of running (after the meal) the nearly 5 miles to the main gate, they still did it! The Army Military Police accepted the torch at the gate, and as a group, they proceeded to the site of the Opening Ceremony.

Committee Chair / Agency
1986 – 1990 Mel Fisher and Ralph Biele, Mo. State Highway Patrol
1991-1992 Chief Robert Scheetz and Dave Heath, St. Louis Metro PD
1993 – 1994 Chief Mike Snavely, Rolla PD
1994 – 1996 Chief Clarence Harmon and Sgt. Rich Banahan, St. Louis Metro PD
Colonel Ron Battelle and Lt. David Pudlowski, St. Louis County PD

In 1994, a phenomenon happened that got everyone really excited. Officers from 81 different agencies raised more than $100,000 for the first time! The announcement brought shouts of exclamation and joy when $124,392 was announced! T-shirt sales soared to over 4,800 shirts. 1995 rounded out our first decade with an awesome increase to $207,885. More than 10,000 T-shirts were sold!

Lt. Steve Davis, MSHP Troop I, Named 2015 John Michael Letz Award Winner

Steve Davis Letz AwardThe John Michael Letz Award was established in December 1994 for the purpose of recognizing an individual whose unselfish efforts and contributions are directly responsible for the success of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics
Missouri. It is our unsung hero award.

The Torch Run Committee elected to name this award after Mike because of his long-time efforts while serving on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Dept. and who died from cancer. The St. Louis Trivia night fundraiser was his creation. It continues still today raising over $178,000 since its inception. The first recipient of this award was Ralph Biele, who was instrumental in starting Missouri’s Torch Run 29 years ago.

The criteria for recipients include:
-Responsible for significant fundraising results
-Participates in year-round support
-Exemplifies the Special Olympics mission
-Someone who is a visionary for the Torch Run,
-Someone whose source of motivation comes from helping the athletes and who shows sustained commitment over a period of time.

We have many who are Torch Run enthusiasts; most we don’t know. We don’t know them because they don’t do the work for the recognition – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are usually in the background working to do more.

About this year’s recipient:

Steve Davis Flame of Hope Involved in the Torch Run for 17 years, first as a runner.
 Is involved in fundraising in both local and statewide fundraising events
 Volunteers to hand out medals at both local and state events
 Organizes a Torch Run before the area Spring Games, involving all local law enforcement agencies and the local athletes
 Serves as Region Coordinator working with recruitment and growing the LETR family in the Area; serving as Mentor to many.
 After becoming the region coordinator, this region was awarded the Greatest Increase in Gross Dollars for 3 years in a row
 Has been instrumental in growing the region’s torch run to include over 1,000 runners
 Had the idea to bring the Polar Plunge to their region and has served as Committee Chair since its inception
 Served as Missouri’s Final Leg Runner to New Jersey in 2014
 In the words of his nominators: “This recipient not only takes on the responsibility of fundraising, but wants everyone to know what Special Olympics stands for and what it does for its athletes around the world. He is a true friend and champion of the Special Olympics MO family.”
 It is my honor to present this award to a person who makes a big difference to his agency and his region; to the LETR family, and to SOMO’s athletes

Congratulations to the 2015 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award recipient: Lt. Steve Davis of the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop I.

Jeff Cook, World Games Final Leg: Days 13 & 14

Jeff Cook, a patrol supervisor with the O’Fallon Police Dept., was selected as Missouri’s representative for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg. Cook will be providing updates on his adventures in Los Angeles as part of the Final Leg.

Friday, July 24
US Bank BuildingJuly 24
Los Angeles City Hall
The Hall of Justice
Griffith Observatory
A couple of nice short runs this morning in downtown LA. We had impressive crowds and the energy in the city surrounding the Games continues to grow. We had several team members selected to go on the roof of the US Bank Building this morning with the torch. This is the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

We got a great view of the valley and the Hollywood sign. Bob Cormier did a great job at the Hall of Justice, speaking on behalf of his fellow superheroes!

Santa Monica Pier
(setting of Three’s Company)
We had our loudest run in and everyone gave it their all for this final run in Santa Monica. Nigel Davis did a great job sharing a personal story of violence in his life and how Special Olympics helped him build the courage be to stand up for and defend himself from bullies in Jamaica. A good final run.

We had one of our last meals together after our final run today. LAPD had a nice dinner set up at City Hall for us. Team 5 was blessed to have Allen Ronaldo Jones back and free from the hospital. Due to the wonderful world of technology we used FaceTime to call and get Claire Hawthorn on the phone for a good team picture.

All of the athletes had an amazing time dancing and proving how far each of them can come in a short time with support.

Saturday, July 25
July 25 - 84 TorchLA84
Breakfast this morning hosted by the LA84 commemorative Olympics library and historical venue. The grounds were very nice and the display of past Olympic torches was very cool. An eternal flame and 84 Olympic Torch was available for photographs.

ESPN – turn it on
We are headed to the Opening Ceremonies at the Coliseum right now. For my local support, I will be the 10th officer from the stage along the corridor, right side facing the stage.

I am a Guardian of the Flame!

Dressed and headed to the Coliseum for Opening Ceremony to kick the Games off and bring in our coveted torch and athletes.

The 124-member of the 2015 Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg will be finishing our journey and our mission shortly by delivering the Flame of Hope for the 7,000 athletes filling this stadium.

(And Rocco even showed up with Mom and Dad)

July 25 - Team 5Any journey has its trials, however, we did our job tonight and delivered the Flame of Hope with dignity, respect and honor for the athletes of these Special Olympics Games.

This has been revered at the largest sports and humanitarian event in Los Angeles since 1984. I represented my family, my department, Special Olympics Missouri and myself with great pride this evening.

LETR Final Leg – Thank you