The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics is the largest public awareness vehicle and grassroots fundraiser for Special Olympics.
Known as the Guardians of the Flame, law enforcement members and Special Olympic athletes carry the Flame of Hope into the opening ceremonies of local competitions and into Special Olympic state, provisional, national, regional and world games.
Today, that flame was carried into the Pentagon courtyard, where several speakers lauded Special Olympic athletes and the support given to them by law enforcement members from around the nation, including the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.
Annually, more than 100,000 dedicated and compassionate law enforcement members carry the Flame of Hope, symbolizing courage and the celebration of diversity, unity and commitment to those with intellectual disabilities from around the globe, said Tom LaCrosse, director, Defense Support of Civil Authorities.
Since its inception in 1981, the Law Enforcement Torch Run has raised over $900 million dollars and changed countless attitudes, he said.
The final leg of the 2002 Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics USA Games began May 20, with the lighting of the torch from the Special Olympics Eternal Flame of Hope in Chicago, Illinois, site of the first Special Olympics Games in 1968.
On June 6, that flame will light the cauldron at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida, signifying the start of the Special Olympics USA games. During the 17-day torch relay, the flame will be honored with ceremonies like this at 30 different locations over the 3,000-mile route passing through 14 states.
This is the largest and longest Law Enforcement Torch Relay for the 2022 USA Games, LaCrosse mentioned.
Army Lt. Gen. Andrew Poppas, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he got involved in Special Olympics through his older brother who coached a team.
“I really saw their strength of character … that camaraderie, that commitment and inspiration that they provide for everybody,” he said.
There’s a longstanding bond between the Special Olympics and the military, Poppas said, noting that many military families have children with special needs.
Taking care of children with special needs is important to the military. That’s why the Defense Department has supported Special Olympics since its inception, he said.
Special Olympics Florida athlete David “The Beast” Rams started his journey with Special Olympics at the age of 14. He’s now 34.
In those 20 years, he has received many accolades, including recognition as the Miami Dade County Athlete of the Year in 2014 and again in 2019. He’s won several medals in two Special Olympics USA games, in track and field, and represented Special Olympics Florida, at the prestigious Penn relays.
Rams said his greatest accomplishment came in the form of his various leadership roles. In each of the USA Games that Rams has participated in, he was elected by his teammates and coaches as captain.
This year, he has been selected as torchbearer for the Special Olympics USA Games’ final leg torch relay
“To this day, the 10 people that made up my first personal Olympics basketball team 20 years ago are still my best friends and brothers,” he said. “They helped me get through really tough times and especially helped me find a path to become the person I want to become.”
Rams also thanked law enforcement personnel for their support of Special Olympics.
“Remember there are many more similarities than there are differences among us. So, let’s continue to encourage goodness in this world. Let’s promote inclusion,” he said.
Other speakers included: Timothy Shriver, who leads the Special Olympics international board of directors; Peter Flynn, Fairfax County Police Department director of Intergovernmental Affairs; David Huchler, chief of Metropolitan Washington Airports; and David Thomason, the vice president of advancement for Special Olympics Virginia and the incoming president of Special Olympics Virginia.