Special Olympics Torch Run held by Springfield-area law enforcement officers before Summer Games this weekend in Columbia

Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 6:55 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - From Friday-Sunday (June 2-4), the Missouri Special Olympics will hold its State Summer Games in Columbia. Part of the opening ceremonies will feature the torch lighting of the Flame of Hope scheduled for Friday, June 2, at 7 p.m. at the MizzouRec on the campus of the University of Missouri.

On Thursday, the Olympic torch passed through Springfield with 35 law enforcement officers from Springfield, Ozark, Greene County, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol providing the escort in a 5K run that began and ended at Jordan Valley Park.

It wasn’t everyone’s favorite thing to do on a hot day.

“I’m not a big fan of running,” said Greene County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Meggan Hartman.

And it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“None of the officers running in front of me told me there was a hole in the middle of the road,” said Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeff Fugett, who was bleeding from a scrape on his left knee. “So I’m the one who got to step in it and take a tumble.”

But they all do it because it helps raise awareness and money for a good cause. Started 37 years ago by the Missouri Police Chiefs Association, the Special Olympics Torch Run involves 850 runners representing 102 agencies across the state, covering 900 miles on 36 different routes, culminating at the Summer Games in Columbia.

And that event, along with many other fundraisers during the year (like Polar Bear Plunges), shows law enforcement’s commitment to the cause.

“In Missouri, we raise around $1 million every year,” Fugett pointed out. “For several years, we’ve been ranked anywhere from 7th to 10th in the world in raising funds for Special Olympics.”

Among the runners on Thursday was Springfield Police Sgt. Kaylee Friend, who was motivated by a childhood friend with Down Syndrome.

He, too, was a Special Olympics athlete.

“He was kind of like a brother to me,” Friend said. “Just to watch him blossom and have a sense of meaning and purpose was wonderful. You get to see it pay out with a smile and excitement on their faces.”

And that’s a reoccurring theme for those who interact with the Special Olympic athletes. The positive effect it has on everyone.

“You think they’re excited to see you,” Friend said. “But actually, it’s us that need them. Their excitement is motiving.”

“I’ve been involved with this since 1999, and the athletes get to where they know your name and why you’re there,” Fugett said. “Whether they’re five or 50 years old, they always have a smile on their face, and when they come up and give you that hug, I still get goosebumps.”

“When I went to my first State Games, I was sold and wanted to make sure I was part of this forever,” said Haley Blevins, who now serves as the Southwest Missouri Development Director for Special Olympics. “They want to be your friend. They want you to be excited with them and share their celebrations with everybody around them. It gives them a sense of purpose, a friendship, and creates a solid community for them to feel like they are being heard and are part of something really important.”

“We’ve had the athletes run with us,” Hartman said of the torch runs. “And that’s humbling, especially whenever they’re looking at you wondering why you can’t keep up with them. We have to explain to them we don’t get to train as much as they do in running like this. But it’s great because they encourage us.”

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