ST. GEORGE – Officers Jeremy Needles and David Slack of the St. George Police Department joined law enforcement from across the state by participating in the Special Olympics Utah Torch Run, a show of support for some of Utah’s most extraordinary athletes. The Torch Run is one of the Police Department’s outreach efforts to the Special Olympics Utah that Needles coordinates.
Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run
Established in 1981, the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run is held annually throughout the United States and in over 40 countries worldwide. Its goal is to involve law enforcement and communities with the Special Olympics while supporting fundraising efforts. Utah law enforcement raises approximately $100,000 for the Special Olympics each year by participating in the Torch Run.
The Special Olympics Utah Torch Run was held in early May. A crowd of over 200, including deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department, Utah Highway Patrol and Utah Department of Corrections and local Special Olympics athletes, participated in the first leg of the run, a one-mile sprint from Harmons to Hansen Stadium in St. George.
“The St. George Police Department fully supports the Utah Special Olympics because the athletes are amazing and contribute to our community in a very special way. It is our pleasure to help encourage these great athletes,” SGPD Sgt. Sam Despain said. “The Utah Special Olympics is a worthwhile cause that gives our friends a chance to shine and show how capable they are; competing builds confidence in these athletes and helps them know that they can accomplish great things.”
The Torch Run passed through nearly every part of the state before concluding in Herriman, with law enforcement officers from across Utah in attendance. Slack and Needles, who also serves as the department’s liaison for charitable organizations, carried the torch to the Herriman High School football field, where it was used to light the cauldron and officially open the 2013 Special Olympics Utah Summer Games.
“We, as law enforcement, are the protectors of the flame,” Needles said. “I chose to become part of the Special Olympics because I have watched the joy and happiness of the athletes as they participate and compete in the events and know the benefits it (brings) to them.”
“I am the envy of the other staff members of Special Olympics Utah because they know what great officers I get to work with down here and the enthusiasm their department has for this cause,” said Janie Belliston, southern regional program manager for Special Olympics Utah. “It makes my job that much easier to work with quality people like them.”
Other outreach events, St. George Polar Plunge
The support of the SGPD goes far beyond the Torch Run. Officers can frequently be spotted at Special Olympics competition events in the area, cheering on and interacting with athletes. Belliston said that many athletes have established relationships with these officers and appreciate the help they provide.
Additionally, the Department helped organize the first St. George Polar Plunge, held February 2013, which drew nearly 50 competitors and raised around $9,000. In 2013 alone, the SGPD raised approximately $20,000 for Special Olympics Utah.
“I know all of our officers look forward to the Torch Run and Polar Plunge every year, and we encourage everyone to come out and see what great events these are,” Despain said. “When you see the joy and happiness this competition brings to each and every athlete, it is absolutely worth it. The Department will continue to support these athletes and encourage everyone to get involved. We are so proud of our local athletes who do such a great job representing St. George in the Special Olympics.”
“I’m so grateful for organizations like the SGPD that take time out of their busy lives to help a cause like the Utah Special Olympics,” Belliston said. “Our athletes absolutely worship them and it’s so great to see our officers interact with them at various events. They have taken their calling to ‘protect and serve’ to a whole new level when they go the extra mile to serve some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”
Special Olympics Utah offers many opportunities for not just law enforcement, but everyday people, to become involved with the organization in their community. Donating money or a vehicle, becoming a volunteer coach or event personnel, or organizing a fundraising team for the 2014 St. George Polar Plunge on Feb. 22 are just some ways to help.
Sometimes the simple gift of encouragement makes the most meaningful difference to Special Olympics athletes. Southern Utah residents can cheer on local competitors at a variety of upcoming events, including bocce, aquatic sports and basketball in September and bowling in October. A complete schedule of events, along with more information on service opportunities, can be found on the Special Olympics Utah website.
“For people with disabilities, the Special Olympics is often the only place where they have an opportunity to participate in their communities and develop belief in themselves,” Needles said. “The Special Olympics provides a gateway to empowerment, confidence, acceptance and joy.”
“The mission of Special Olympics Utah is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in over 15 Olympic-type events for children and adults with disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympic athletes and our communities,” Belliston said. “Athletes who compete in the Special Olympics are statistically five times more likely to keep a job and participate in community events. We aim to improve their lives in any way we can.”
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