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Running for the Special Olympics

Running for the Special Olympics

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YORK -- Around 20 people came out to show their support for Special Olympics Nebraska by completing a 5K around York, beginning at East Hill Park. Participants were escorted across the street before they continued on the marked route.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) for Special Olympics Nebraska is hosting torch event throughout the state from Sept. 7 to Sept. 17. These runs bring local law enforcement and the various communities together.

This year, the theme of the event is “Flame of Hope.” The Torch Run typically occurs in May, but with the cancellation of the Nebraska State Summer Games due to COVID, the event was delayed.

LETR began in Kansas in 1981 when Police Chief Richard LaMunyon started the event. In 1983, LaMunyon presented the program to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) when it was endorsed.

Since then, the Torch Run became the movement’s largest public awareness fundraising group for Special Olympics.

Law enforcement officers and athletes are known as the “Guardians of the Flame.” They carry the “Flame of Hope” into opening ceremonies of local events they attend. Some of these events they attend are the Special Olympics State, Provincial, National and World Games.

This event has also extended through several other Special Olympics events. The Plane Pull, Polar Plunge and Tip-A-Cop also set up fundraising like the Torch Run. According to the Special Olympics website, The Torch Run has raised over $600 million for programs.

Erika Garcia helped set the Torch Run up for York residents. Garcia said the event has gone on here with the help of the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women for the past five years, and she has been the coordinator for the past four.

“The event can be as much or as little as you want,” Garcia said. “I like to have things for the athletes, volunteers and runners because it has a little extra incentive for them to come out.”

“I just love when people show up,” Garcia said. “I love getting people together and fundraising for great causes. I try to do something more every year.”

“We need to bring awareness to the Special Olympics,” Garcia said. “These athletes try just as hard as every other athlete, but too often, they are overlooked. We need to remember they are out there and it’s unified inclusion. We’re small, but we still have a little of everyone. We need to remember that everyone makes a community.”

According to an online Special Olympics statement by Richard LaMunyon, “What started in 1981…. as a flicker of hope for Special Olympics has now become a roaring flame of stability for Special Olympics athletes worldwide. LETR is changing the future for people with intellectual disabilities. Through LETR and Special Olympics partnerships, we are lighting the way for acceptance and inclusion.”

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