WASHINGTON, DC, OCTOBER 30—For 42 years, over 100,000 men and women in law enforcement have been the single largest fundraisers for Special Olympics, holding various events including Polar Plunges®, Plane Pulls® and Tip-A-Cop® events to raise funds and awareness globally for Special Olympics programs. Today, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) initiative for Special Olympics has reached a significant milestone, announcing since its inception, they have collectively raised more than 1 billion US dollars for the Special Olympics movement. All funds collected directly support Special Olympics programs locally.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) is the largest public awareness and grassroots fundraising vehicle for local Special Olympics programs. The Torch Run engages law enforcement officers, employees, and volunteers worldwide to champion acceptance and inclusion for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID).
“What started in 1981 as a flicker of hope for one of the most marginalized populations in the world—has now become a roaring flame of stability for Special Olympics worldwide. He added, “Hundreds of athletes filled the stands at South High School, packing it to capacity. We reserved a special spot in the front row for Special Olympics’ Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. After the parade of athletes, officers made their grand entrance into the stadium. They arrived on motorcycles, in police cars, and marched in formation as I arrived in a helicopter that touched down on the 50-yard line of the football stadium. From there, I walked over to join the procession of officers carrying the flame. As I glanced at Mrs. Shriver, I could tell that we had left a lasting impression. She said, Chief, ‘let’s do it,’ and that was the official start of LETR’s global movement for inclusion. I never dreamed that one torch run would lead us down a path where today we are celebrating raising a billion dollars for Special Olympics!”
At its most basic level, the LETR is a running event in which officers and athletes carry the Flame of Hope to the Opening Ceremony of local Special Olympics competitions, state/provincial Games, and National Summer or Winter Games. In addition, every two years, law enforcement officers from around the world gather to carry the Flame of Hope in a Law Enforcement Torch Run® Final Leg in honor of the Special Olympics World Summer or World Winter Games.
“The Flame of Hope has reached far beyond U.S. borders, as law enforcement agencies from around the world have embraced the LETR. I’m incredibly grateful to the tireless effort and dedication of the thousands of men and women who are true Guardians of the Flame—those who have sworn to serve and protect their communities, working to raise this monumental $1 billion milestone and truly making a difference in the lives of generations to come. From Polar Plunges in Ireland and Austria to Plane Pulls in Washington D.C, I have met their spouses, their children and grandchildren volunteering at these Special Olympics fundraising events and spreading awareness for our Movement. Until we can see full inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in the classroom, on the playing field, and in all areas of society, we need this global fundraising effort to continue. I applaud the LETR for their efforts and look forward to continuing to build on this legacy.”
Some of the key milestones over the 42-year history of the LETR include:
1981: History is made in Wichita, Kansas as the first Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) 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. The original Torch Run took place with the authorization and support of Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon. LETR raised: $300
1984: The inaugural LETR Conference was held in Overland Park, Kansas with 11 states present. Torch Run expands outside of Kansas as New Jersey completes their first Torch Run from Liberty State Park to Rutgers in promotion of the Special Olympics New Jersey State Games.
1986: The Torch Run sees unprecedented growth as 43 U.S. programs joined the movement. More than 13,500 runners participated, running a total of 14,390 miles that year.
1987: The first Torch Runs were held outside the United States in Ontario, Canada, and Jamaica. A team of 57 law enforcement officers participated in the Inaugural Final Leg held from Chicago, Illinois to South Bend, Indiana as part of the 7th Special Olympics World Games.
1990: Canada hosts their inaugural National Torch Run from Calgary to Vancouver. Peru becomes first South American country to host a Torch Run. The first European Torch Run was held in Strathclyde, Scotland. Thirty European countries represented by 2,400 athletes participated in eight official and five demonstration sports.
1993: In March, 48 runners (21 from the United States) and seven support staff carried the Flame of Hope for the first time Internationally as part of the 5th Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. The route began in Trieste, Italy and covered 1,200 miles before reaching Schladming, Austria. The Inaugural Torch Run in Poland takes place as part of the Special Olympics Poland National Summer Games. The Inaugural Plane Pull® event was hosted by Special Olympics Virginia.
1995: The 1st North American Tip-A-Cop® event was held at U.S. and Canadian Red Lobster restaurants. From June 24 – July 2, 88 team members, including runners and support staff, greet the Flame of Hope on Ellis Island and run through New York City before heading to New Haven, Connecticut, for the 9th Special Olympics World Summer Games.
2000: First Torch Runs occurred in China, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. The Flame of Hope ran through Belgium and The Netherlands for the Special Olympics European Games in Groningen, The Netherlands. A multinational Torch Run was held in Poland with six countries represented. The Flame of Hope carried during the Torch Run, was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. From May 18 – 22, the Special Olympics China Millennium March took place throughout China. The LETR movement cumulatively raised more than $100 million worldwide for local Special Olympics programs since its inception in 1981.
2001: The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics celebrated its 20th Anniversary. Cape Town, Johannesburg and Sun City, South Africa hosted Special Olympics African Hope. Former South African President Nelson Mandela, and Special Olympics athletes gathered to light the Flame of Hope and kick off the largest Law Enforcement Torch Run to date. More than 1,000 officers and 250 athletes carried the Flame of Hope through the streets of Cape Town to generate awareness for the movement throughout the continent.
2003: The world’s largest Torch Run running event was held in Istanbul, Turkey. The 5,000-plus runners, including Turkish athletes and citizens, were led through the streets of Istanbul by three Final Leg Running Teams as part of the Final Leg for the Special Olympics World Games in Dublin, Ireland. On September 13, the first multi-state Truck Convoy occurred with five states participating, including Florida, Missouri, Tennessee, Delaware, and Iowa. A total of 392 trucks participated.
2007: The Eternal Flame of Hope was lit from the rays of the sun in Athens, Greece on June 29 and then traveled over five continents visiting Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt, London, England, Washington D.C., Seoul, Korea, Tokyo, Japan and Sydney, Australia before arriving in Beijing for the 2017 LETR Final Leg. The LETR movement has cumulatively raised more than $250 million worldwide for local Special Olympics programs since its inception in 1981.
2011: 30th Anniversary of LETR. The LETR Final Leg for the 2011 World Games were held June 9 – 25, 2011, in Athens, Greece. The entire Final Leg team was present at the traditional Flame Lighting ceremony held in Athens, Greece for the Special Olympics World Games.
2015: From May to July 2015, more than 10,000 torch runners took part in the Unified Relay Across America (URAA) in preparation for the 2015 World Games held in California, USA. Law enforcement officers from Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles Police Department escorted all three routes of the URAA across the United States. The LETR held a Final Leg for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. The team was comprised of law enforcement members from 26 countries and carried the Flame of Hope through 120 cities, towns, and communities across California before arriving at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as part of the Opening Ceremony for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.
2019: The 2019 LETR Final Leg for the Special Olympics World Games were held in the United Arab Emirates March 3 – 14, 2019. The team was comprised of law enforcement officers from 46 U.S. States and 24 countries. The Flame of Hope was carried through all seven Emirates before arriving at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi for the Opening Ceremony on Thursday, March 14, 2019. Chief LaMunyon accepted the Flame of Hope from the Final Leg team member on stage at the Opening Ceremony prior to passing it on to the awaiting athletes who lit the cauldron.
2021: Celebrations were held in Wichita, Kansas over the weekend of June 5 – 6 to mark the 40th Anniversary of the first Torch Run. Events hosted by LETR Kansas included a 40th Celebration Party on the evening of June 5 and a Torch Run through the streets of Wichita on the morning of June 6.
At its most fully developed, the LETR initiative encompasses a variety of fundraising vehicles. LETR fund-raising includes T-shirt and merchandise sales, donations and pledges for runners who participate in their local runs, corporate partnerships, and special events such as Plane Pull®, Polar Plunge®, Tip-A-Cop®, Truck Convoy®, Cops on Top®, golf tournaments and other events that have local appeal.
The $1 billion raised by the Law Enforcement Torch Run has provided significant support to the mission of Special Olympics programs around the globe these last 42 years. Each year, funds raised by law enforcement go towards their local Special Olympics programs’ annual expenses which can include administrative costs, facility rental and competition expenses.
For more information on LETR, please visit: www.letr.org.