GILLETTE, Wyo. — Special Olympics Wyoming announced today that the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics has raised more than $1 billion for the Special Olympics since 1981.
Wyoming’s LETR has raised about $1.93 million, the news release said. More than 100,000 men and women in law enforcement have been the single largest fundraisers for the Special Olympics. Since 1987, Wyoming LETR has been involved in running the Flame of Hope throughout the state to the Opening Ceremony at State Games, medaling athletes and holding fundraising events. Each year, there is a Fire Truck Pull and Truck Convoy, as well as cold water plunges statewide called “Jackalope Jumps” or “Polar Plunge,” Tip-a-Cops, and Donate to Insulate.
Funds support local Special Olympics programs’ annual expenses, such as administrative costs, facility rentals and competition expenses.
Special Olympics Wyoming CEO Jennifer Haines said the organization is grateful for the law enforcement community’s support. Volunteers have helped spread the message of inclusion through Torch Runs, presented awards at competitions, arranged special fundraising events and shared their time with athletes.
Matt Koritnik of the Powell Police Department and WY LETR Council Area 1 coordinator said being involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics movement has been the most rewarding part of his career.
“Seeing how much the local athletes appreciate our support and friendship makes all the hard work worthwhile,” he said. “Special Olympics gives athletes the confidence to be their very best, both as an athlete and as a person. Being involved and being accepted for who they are makes them the best version of themselves. This is a lesson we can all learn from Special Olympics.”
Past WY LETR Council Director, current SOWY board member and now-retired Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Keith Groeneweg states, “I have a passion for Special Olympic athletes — they inspire me to be a better person every time I spend time with them. I have been involved with LETR for close to 30 years. I enjoy participating in events along with my fellow officers to do everything possible to support these outstanding people. My Final Leg trip alongside Lewis Fancher to Berlin was one of the most incredible experiences in my law enforcement career. He is my hero!”
The International Association of Chiefs of Police founded the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. Some of the key milestones over the 42-year history of the LETR are as follows:
- In 1981, in Wichita, Kansas, the first Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics was held. The original six Torch Runners were Robert G. Bachman, Don “Barney” Ipsen, Walt Kuykendall, Jack Leon, Jan McCloud and Kirk Miles.
- In 1984, the inaugural LETR Conference took place in Overland Park, Kansas.
- In 1987, Laramie police officer Dale Stalder brought the Law Enforcement Torch Run to Wyoming.
- In 1988, WY LETR raised $950 for Special Olympics Wyoming through its first torch run.
- In 1989, Laramie Police Department’s Dale Stalder represented Wyoming in the Final Leg in Lake Tahoe.
- In 1993, Stalder was among those who carried the Flame of Hope for the first time internationally as part of the 5th Special Olympics World Games in Austria. The route began in Trieste, Italy and covered 1,200 miles before reaching Schladming, Austria.
- In 1995, Special Olympics Wyoming participated in greeting the Flame of Hope on Ellis Island and running through New York City before heading to New Haven, Connecticut, for the ninth Special Olympics World Summer Games.
- In 1997, Bruce Olson represented Wyoming LETR at the Final Leg in Canada.
- In 1999, Lindsay Moss was a torch runner from Wyoming for the Final Leg in North Carolina.
- In 2003, Retired Douglas Police Chief Ron Casalenda participated in the Ireland Final Leg.
- From 2005 to 2013, Wyoming LETR was represented by law enforcement officers in Final Legs: Bill Whittle, Joe Cronk, Tedy Harbaugh, Mike Kavenius, Jason Niemi, Boot Hill and Zack Johnson.
- In 2011, WY LETR had raised $587,465 through torch runs and fundraisers that had involved 2,495 law enforcement members.
- In 2014, Matt Koritnik, of the Powell police department, became a Guardian of the Flame in the Final Leg in New Jersey. The Guardians of the Flame are law enforcement members and Special Olympics athletes who carry the Flame of Hope into the Opening Ceremony of local competition and into Special Olympics State, Provincial, National, Regional, and World Games.
- In 2015, Los Angeles Final Leg saw Mike Fernandez, of the Cheyenne police department, as a Guardian of the Flame.
- In 2017, retired UW police chief Mike Samp participated in the Final Leg in Austria.
- In 2018, Julie Wickett was the Wyoming Final Leg runner at the Seattle Games.
- In 2019, the LETR Final Leg for the Special Olympics World Games was held in the United Arab Emirates. The team included retired Riverton police chief Duane Pacheco.
- In 2022, Randy Davis, who retired from Wyoming Highway Patrol, participated in the USA Games Final Leg in Florida.
- This year, Keith Groeneweg, who retired from Wyoming Highway Patrol, carried the torch for the Berlin, Germany, Final Leg.
Special Olympics Wyoming, a nonprofit, provides year-round sports training, athletic competition and related programs to people with intellectual disabilities as opportunities to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy and friendship.