2018 John Michael Letz Award Winner: Lynn McClamroch

The John Michael Letz Award is the highest honor given within Missouri’s Law Enforcement Torch Run. It is our unsung hero award.

The criteria for recipients include being responsible for significant fundraising results and participating in year-round support; exemplifying the Special Olympics mission and being a visionary for the Torch Run. The winner of this award is 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:

  • Began their LETR career by running in their local leg of the torch run
  • Served as the agency coordinator for their agency
  • Serves on the local Polar Plunge committee and has been instrumental in growing this event to where it is today
  • Organized a leg of the Torch Run in their city, involving local athletes.
  • Has driven the torch from one city to another between runs, to ensure each route in their region had the torch for their run.
  • Although this recipient has retired from their LETR agency, they remain involved in all events within their region; helping to coordinate and by participating when possible.
  • Served first as the assistant Region coordinator for their region before taking over as Region coordinator for 4 years. This recipient remained as Region coordinator, even after retiring, to ensure the right replacement was in place before stepping down.
  • When the local LETR committee was asked to help with lunch for the area Spring Games, this recipient was instrumental in providing a free BBQ lunch to the athletes and even volunteered to do the cooking.
  • This recipient’s nominator said “It didn’t take me long to see how passionate and dedicated this recipient was to the program. Although our region has had some change, a few things have stayed constant: This recipient’s commitment and dedication to the LETR and his love for the SOMO athletes. Because of his efforts, the Flame of Hope is still burning bright in North Missouri.”
  • The 2018 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to – – Lynn McClamroch – MO Dept. of Conservation, retired

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!

Law Enforcement Torch Run Celebrates 30th Anniversary: Part 2

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
Second in a three–part series

Read the first post of the series here

March to the Million $ mark: 1996 – 2005
In 1995, the LETR efforts raised just over $200,000 gross. We sold over 10,000 LETR shirts in a year. The next decade was our largest growth.

1996: Polar Plunge introduction
While attending the International LETR Conference in Wisconsin, Missouri delegates heard about this amazing phenomenon called Polar Bear Plunge. They brought the idea back to Missouri and the SOMO liaison had the assignment of calling the Chief of Police in Osage Beach to see if he’d support such an idea.

Jamie Graham

Jamie Graham

Susan Stegeman recalls that phone call. “While on maternity leave with my first son, I planned the call. A lot of people were intimidated by Chief Troutman’s rough exterior, including me!” The Chief’s response was immediate and included “I think we could do that, and I’d love to see my community embrace this idea. If it’s for Special Olympics, of course.” Chief Troutman’s connection to SOMO began with his close relationship to athlete Jamie Graham. Jamie is a huge part of SOMO’s LETR in large part of the photos he draws and presents to the Missouri Police Chief Association President each year. The Polar Plunge debuted in 1996 at the Lake of the Ozarks and resulted in 54 plungers who raised $8,200. This was the only plunge in Missouri for 9 years. In 2005, we added St. Louis and Kansas City. In 2017, Missouri will have 13 different Plunge locations. (Registration will open soon!)

1999: hosted the LETR Conference in St. Louis with more than 800 attendees
Group w Jim RayMissouri was the first program to host “host night” off site. We transported attendees via school buses to the Arch. We were also the first program to utilize our athletes as presenters to introduce speakers and sessions. This really jump started our program because we were able to bring in more law enforcement attendees as conference volunteers/attendees and also incorporated the Department of Corrections and their vendor relationships. This conference was a first also in that it was the last event ever held at the Henry VIII Hotel prior to its demolition as part of the St. Louis Lambert Airport expansion project. Our officers were great hosts in planning everything from airport transfers, local transfers wherever attendees wanted/needed to go, and a hospitality room that is still revered. Due to great planning and support from local organizations and sponsors – we also generated revenue!

1999: Began region awards in four categories presented at the annual Missouri Police Chiefs Conference in December
Outstanding agency participations (chosen by each Region Coordinator)
Outstanding volunteer effort (chosen by each Region Coordinator)
Highest percentage increase in dollars raised
Greatest overall gross dollar increase

2000: Shirts sold at Shop ’n Save locations peak to 41,000 sold and sparked a great relationship that exists still today
The Shop ‘n Save T-shirt sales promotion began in 2000, but according to Dave Pudlowski, it was a dismal failure. What happened the next year resulted in $17,017 in sales of LETR shirts and hats at 14 Shop’n Save stores. St. Louis County PD coordinated the effort but connected the local municipalities to each store where a relationship began to form. From 2001, this event continued to grow year over year. Shop ’n Save employees became volunteers at Special Olympics events, they brought their families with them, and they started hosting their own events to support their charity of choice. Events like the I-55 Raceway and bowling tournament have gone by the wayside, but Trivia Night, Gateway Golf and Gala and Round Up remain as their fundraising events. Shop ’n Save is an awesome partner with law enforcement to support our favorite charity.

Jeff Ottenad, third from left

Jeff Ottenad, third from left

2001 – St Louis Route named Jeff Ottenad Route
In 2001, the St. Louis Region 8 Route was named after Jeff Ottenad, a SOMO athlete who always ran with the torch runners. After cancer took his leg, Jeff still participated but from his wheel chair.  After his death, the route was named in his honor. The Ottenad family continues to participate annually to continue the legacy of their brother and son.

2001 – First auto raffle
We partnered with the Missouri/Illinois Dodge Dealers and Shop’n Save to sell tickets statewide. The giveaway was hosted at the I-55 Raceway and more than $60,000 was raised in year one! This event is now called the Drive It Home Raffle.

2002 – Department of Corrections support took off and Corrections Officers raised over $98,000 from 23 institutions and Central Office.
The Department of Corrections began supporting Missouri’s LETR in 2002.  Corrections Officers and employees from their adult institutions and Central Office raise funds by hosting internal fundraisers like chili cook-offs, bake sales, and sell Torch Run shirts. They also participate in SOMO events like Over the Edge, Polar Plunge and selling Drive it Home Raffle tickets.

Rich Banahan, right

Rich Banahan, right

International recognition followed:
Rank in World – we were recognized among the top 10 programs at the Conference in Nashville – at #5!
2000 Dave Pudlowski was inducted into the Hall Of Fame
2001 Jim Moran, St. Louis Metro PD, won the John Carion Unsung Hero Award at the Conference in Wichita, KS, where the international LETR began.
2004 Rich Banahan, St. Louis Metro PD, was inducted into the Richard LaMunyon Hall of Fame at the Conference in Virginia

Rays notesMarch to Million runners agencies gross
1996 349 116 $314,764
1997 706 172 $409,300
1998 900 176 $595,380
1999 806 188 $811,245
2000 803 181 $908,316
2001 711 170 $756,305
2002 975 165 $864,000
2003 963 167 $929,472
2004 931 173 $1,055,196
2005 887 172 $1,000,000

Created the Letz Award – Missouri highest LETR Award for Unsung Hero recognition: 

Ralph Biele, third from left

Ralph Biele, third from left

1994 – Ralph Biele, MO State Highway Patrol, and founder of Missouri’s LETR program
1995 – Major John Cira, Hazelwood PD
1996 – Sgt. Rich Banahan, St. Louis Metro PD
1997 – Chief Randy Boehm, Columbia PD
1998 – Mary Branstetter, St. Ann PD
1999 – Lt. Tim Goebel, Crossroads Correctional Center
2000 – Major David Pudlowski, St. Louis County PD
2001 – Janelle Waterman, MSHP Troop A
2002 – Capt. Graham Burnley, Chesterfield PD
2003 – Capt. Jim Moran, St. Louis Metro PD
2004 – Chief Jim McCart, Osage Beach DPS
2005 – Capt. Zim Schwartze, Columbia PD

Loretta Claiborne speaks at the LETR Kickoff

Loretta Claiborne speaks at the LETR Kickoff in 2005

2005 ended with a $1 million dollar LETR program with many funding projects poised to support SOMO and our athletes for years to come.

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

Jeff Cook, World Games Final Leg: Days 11 & 12

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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
July 22 at ABCUp at 4:30 this morning and headed to ABC 7 – LA Studio.
We did several live shots and a few interviews were filmed for later.

Host City – Burbank
Team Zimbabwe
Team Botswana
FANtastic celebration to run into. The speeches were great by Josh and Azeem. The energy from the athletes was really needed this morning. It was an early day and this was the spark we needed.

El Cañada Flintridge
The weather has stayed a little cloudy today and there have been no complaints. We got our fill of sun running the beaches yesterday. This was a very nice community who proudly accepted the Flame of Hope.

July 22 - BurbankNigel and Bruce Felton shared their stories for the crowd. Nigel did a great job again, he rolled up his speech and spoke from the heart again. It was moving.

Beautiful town with a great downtown area. The city hosted a great event and is actually a host city for Team Singapore, Team Tanzania and Team Namibia.

Thursday, July 23
We wrapped up the day with our last two cities and my second speech, accompanied by Dale Smit. It was a humid run in to a great local crowd at both locations. Dale and I spread the word of awareness at Arcadia and Joshua and Russell carried the Torch in Glendale. It is exciting to see so many athletes at these events as we draw closer to the games.

The ride on horse training and therapy program hosted us this morning with a great welcome and light breakfast.

The long days, weather and schedule are slowing a few folks down. We are keeping our spirits and energy up when it’s time to run though. We have to treat each one like it was the first one to motivate the communities and do the job we are here for!

(You know it from Karate Kid)
This stop brought us to one of the coolest entertainment sessions yet. A gentleman has a band that he leads with four special needs guys as his vocal back ups. Great ceremony and turnout. The LETR Final Leg Team keeps knocking down those miles, getting city to city along the way. We’re in the home stretch and the Games are getting so close!

Van Nuys
They did us a solid by making this a shorter run in before serving us lunch. First ceremony where we were provided and instructed to take seats. It was in the shade and under a tent.

Many political officials had aides present and helped celebrate the Torch Run.

July 23Lakeview Terrace
This community had set up quite a vehicle and vendor display in a local park for us. The music was bumping and the cheers were loud from the athletes of Team Hellas (Greece.) Julie Tilbury and Nigel Davis did a great job.

I have become so amazingly proud of Nigel Davis the past two weeks. Nigel has gone from reading right off the script to taking the microphone with a stage presence of an entertainer. He speaks each time now from the heart and tells his story of struggle and success in his life. Nigel could have very easily been just another special needs person left inside at his families home and generally isolated from his community like many had been prior to Special Olympics and the funding that LETR helps provide.

Nigel is not just an athlete, he is also a father. He loves his daughter and her mother, who is also a special needs athlete in Kingston Jamaica. Nigel works at a soap factory that produces the soap for hotel resort guests. He runs or rollerblades/skates to work every day. He is an Olympic speed skater and figure skater. He runs and skates to work to train and he never stops training.

Nigel embodies one of the greatest, all-inclusive, examples of what Special Olympics can do in our world. He is a valuable and productive member of society and lives independently. Nigel, Dale, Joshua and Grazianno have reminded me of the importance of being a Guardian of the Flame.

Studio City
A good run in to a warm reception. Our hosts had great a great Mexican dance performance set up for us and the crowd. They topped it with ice cream and the Minions!

Route 1 / Root 1 had a pretty good day so far. We’ve had a couple setbacks, however, it’s amazing how just a few minutes of camaraderie in a park can really bring the Team spirit up.

Today at lunch, we were given a Frisbee from Panda Express. We had a little time to kill and someone brought up playing a little Frisbee. My stomach finally felt a little better so I figured why not. As soon as I got up, Grazianno hopped up and started heading off the bus too. He was eager to to get it in the grass and horse around and have some fun.
Grazianno has come out of his shell so much since the first day. We have been more protective of him and more aware on when he interacts. He does not speak English, however he understands a little. Claire Hawthorn took the first couple steps to work with him and I made sure that I followed that lead. We worked to to include, acknowledge, encourage and communicate with him when Stefano was and was not around.
It kept paying off each day. Grazianno started to initiate hugs, smile with great pride and actually danced out in the open in the middle of ceremonies. Today’s he actively played Frisbee with us all and was so happy. I was a witness to a great day of inclusion. A great day for Route 1.

July 23 - LAXLAX
We literally shut down the traffic coming through/past the iconic LAX airport sign. Five lanes of traffic for 20 minutes so we could line up everyone for a great shot. These adore the times when police officers like to block traffic, when its for their brothers and sisters and the athletes!

It was followed by a very nice outdoor dinner and DJ at the base of the flag pole and famous lighting structures. The colors have been changed to mimic the colors for these World Games.

Jeff Cook, World Games Final Leg: Days 9 & 10

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.

Disneyland —
Mother nature struck again and though it rained in southern California, the show must go on. We got about 90 minutes of free time to wander around downtown Disney. We spent time spreading the word to a group of 8th grade girls from Oregon who were here for a soccer tournament. We talked about Special Olympics and the Torch Run.
The torch was run, during a slight drizzle, and welcomed by a cheerleading team and several hundred guests of Disney. A little time for goofing around helped the aches and pains of the day.
Disneyland 1

IrvineLagunaNewport Beach

Irvine, Laguna, Newport Beach 
Up early and rolling again this morning. This will be the lamest post yet. We have been hitting stops back to back and they have been awesome. Good receptions at each with some amazing little guys that stole the show.

Huntington Beach —
The new Huntington Beach Bad Boys and Girls just took the beach. An amazing reception in Huntington Beach that will be repeated. They are a host city for the athletes coming to the U.S. from Australia and the Netherlands. The excitement is building in the communities around L.A.Torance

Huntington Beach

Torrance —
Toyota welcomed the LETR Final Leg team with an amazing setup, concert, ceremony and lunch.

Manhattan Beach to Hermosa Beach —
Here we ran along the beach. We had a gorgeous weather day and the event pulled in several people along the way to a large outdoor ceremony at the pier.

El Segundo (Mattel HQ) —
The employees of Mattel had a quality set and we’re ready to receive the Flame of Hope. They had great area set up and the LA Lakers Girls standing by. Another dance party broke out, you can’t give this crew a DJ and ice cold Gatorade because a party is bound to break out. Even Graziano danced tonight.

LongBeachEl Segundo

Jeff Cook, World Games Final Leg: Days 7 & 8

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.

Day 7 – Several Posts

Day 7 Jeff and Oxnard athletesThe days have been exciting and tiring at the same time. The excitement and energy of the community recharges our batteries and motivates us for the next run. The members of Route 1 (Root 1!) continue to impress.

Our first stop today was Oxnard. I was going to try and recap yesterday, however the last hour in Oxnard can not wait to be mentioned. Groups or athletes were waiting at each corner we turned at to help us reach the ceremony. We arrived to a Police Commander who emceed the event and did a great job. This was the most inspiring stop to date.

Our Team 5 athlete, Dale Smit, made me so proud today. His nervousness was apparent and when he got up, he struggled in a few spots. As I stood and watched Dale this morning I witnessed what real courage looks like. He conquered each word that slowed him down and did not let it get the best of him. I was as proud of Dale Smit this morning as I have been of my own son at times in his life. My pride began to create a bit of a glare in my vision and an ache in my chest. I hesitate to share this knowing many of my teammates may see this. Emotion got the best of me this morning and I wasn’t sure why at first? (One person spotted me but I know she wont tell.). G. lol As I looked around, the realization of where I was and the opportunity that was given to me just sunk in. The excitement and joy in that community, for our arrival, was amazing. Eric Smith and Dale Smit killed it on a news interview today as well. It was so good a dance party literally broke out at nine in the morning. Thank you Oxnard, you have set the bar!

Today continues to be a good day in Cali! The weather was almost as beautiful as the town. They are hosting the athletes of Team Britain and the town was decorated nicely. We ran into a well attended ceremony where Jen Riley and our athlete Joshua spoke to the crowd. They both did a fantastic job representing our family.

On a side note, if you’re ever in California, this is the car you want to escort you around (CHP Dodge Viper.)

Day 7 WG cheerleaderTHOUSAND OAKS
We shut down Thousand Oaks Blvd for almost 2.5 miles and ran into a spectacular crowd. Patrons and shop owners were coming out of the stores and cheering us along. Those in vehicles honked, in support not in frustration, waving and video taping as well.
My teammate and roomie, Otis Stevens, gave his speech today alongside Nigel Davis. Nigel continues to shine with each speech. Thousand Oaks brought out the “Sparkles” unified Cheer Team. Amazing young ladies…

SIMI VALLEY 99 degree
First off, nice views and great hills, too look at! A nice mile-long climb up to a shopping center that rounded out the day with a huge crowd. I have been most impressed with the quality of the ceremonies and community turnout today. The Simi Valley PD organized some great entertainment after effectively spreading the message and the mission of the Final Leg.

Day 7 Jeff and athleteWe headed out after meeting a few locals and stopped by the local Toyota dealership after another hilly Simi Valley run.

There’s barely time to post between stops, fortunately they arranged for wifi on the bus. Posting in the evening is a challenge because it cuts into what we have realized is most valuable sleep time.

We are having dinner at the Ronald Reagan library this evening!

Day 8
Day 8 With  cheerleaderWe were quite a wake up call for the city of San Yisidro / San Diego County. We shouted cadence for about two miles through the street to spread awareness and make our presence known. The local supporters did not hesitate to put on a fantastic show of support. The Xolo Girls and the mascot for the Caliente futbol team from Tijuana were there along with a great mariachi band. As with most stops these days when music kicks off, the dancing follows

As the military chant starts … Didn’t come to Coronado for the sun, we’re running for the athletes in the Torch Run!

What a beautiful city, looks just like the movies. We ran along the bay front and then through town to a community orchestra waiting for us. US Olympic Champion Layne Beaubien emceed the event. Today has started out as good as yesterday, just a little cooler with rain sprinkles. We finished with a quick trip to Hotel Del Coronado and finally coffee! The community and local law enforcement did another job showing great respect for the Flame of Hope.

Mother Nature decided to poke fun of the other Routes. There were in places in the desert and we were at Seal Beach in LaJolla with the ocean. Change of plans, lighting, thunderstorms and water by the buckets. The storms shut down both cities nearly with flood warnings and storm drains filling at capacity.

Our trip was cut short, however, San Diego PD adapted like true Torch Run Guardians and we brought the ceremony on the bus. Their message was shared in an abbreviated fashion, however, we appreciated all their efforts. I’m sorry to San Diego their efforts and preparation was minimized to being on the bus, I know they had great stuff in store for us. We’ve been granted some rehab time which will be appreciated.

What an awesome morning running along the ocean in San Clemente. There was a weekend festival that still had a lot of people out already. The view was Fantastic and the ceremony was impressive.

A couple of days ago in Visalia we witnessed our athlete Graccianno Corozza from Italia smile and give Tammy and kiss on the cheek at the end of her speech. This was the most emotion we had seen from Gracciano the entire trip.

Day 8 Jeff and NigelToday was Nigel’s turn to pierce my heart. He came up today and for the first time he did not read his speech, he went off the cuff and did it from memory. Actually he did it from his heart, his great big smiling heart. Nigel spoke of how he was a little concerned about being on the bus with all of the officers and new people however now he loves his new family.
The pride in my chest for Nigel swelled and I had to tell him. I went to Nigel afterwards and gave him a big hug and told him how proud I was of him and he squeezed me back tightly. Nigel then became emotional and started crying in my arms out of joy, acceptance and pride in himself. Life does not provide many moments like this however Special Olympics and Torch Run family is like no other.

The beauty of this beach was only shadowed by the inspiring Torch Runners that took it over. Jacqui Robertson and Graziano gave outstanding speeches, relaying the mission and personal experiences with LETR. We had a great lunch at the beach and even go to kick our shoes off and play in the sand a little.

As for Graziano “Buon lavoro il mio amico”. Good job my friend.

Day 8 Jeff  running with the torchAnother California city set the stage for a wonderful welcome. We started our run at the Finish Line of the 1984 Olympic Games Cycling event that finished in Mission Viejo. It was a very nice setting in a beautiful community. Olympic Champion Bob Goodell, a gold medalist swimmer in 1984, was also on hand.

We ran in to a Pipe and Drum band playing with a large community turnout. Bob Cormier gave his speech, followed and outdone, by Team 5’s Dale Smit. Dale followed suit with his teammates stepped up in his public speaking. Dale did an amazing job with his eye contact and voice strength today. He used his script, however, he looked up and spoke in his normal speaking voice more than his slightly nervous reading voice.

I wish that his mom and dad could have been here to see him and his progress the past 8 days. Today showed the power of support, confidence and courage for Dale. FANtastic!

Jeff Cook, World Games Final Leg: Days 5 & 6

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.

Day 5 – (what a day)
Stop 1 – Golden Gate Bridge
Stop 2 – San Francisco’s famous Pier 39
Stop 3 – San Fran Union Square
Stop 4 – San Fan City Hall
Stop 5 – San Fran Overlook
We up extremely early and nearly saw the sun rise at the Golden Gate Bridge. We made multiple stops and saw some great people. The highlight of the day was running down to Pier 39 and saw a line of middle school students along the road who had made up and were displaying posters with our names on them. Seeing all our names on posters put a lump in my throat. It was a long, fantastic day.

Day 5_1 Day 5_2

Day 6
Stop 1 – Stockton CA
Stop 2 – Modesto CA
Stop 3 – Fresno CA
Stop 4 – Visalia CA
As the days go by there seems to be less time to recap each event before running to the next one. We are logging our miles in some great cities and well received by so many. Our presence as we make our way though the city streets being people out of their shops and homes to see what this chanting was all about.

Though each location was unique, Fresno had one of the larger and more formal ceremonies of the day. We were blessed to be inside their city council chambers after running at in 100+ degree heat for the first couple stops. Gorgeous weather and the sunshine is a blessing, however, a little warmer than necessary.

Senior Constable Claire Hawthorn of New South Wales and athlete Nigel Davis of Jamaica spoke at this ceremony. They both did a bang up job and met their goal of spreading awareness in exemplary fashion. The community and law enforcement turn out was appreciated by everyone of us representing our programs at home and around the country.

Day 6_1` Day 6_2