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  • TorchRun-50thAnniversary

    Carry the Torch

    The Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Law Enforcement Torch Run Commemorative Run will light the way for acceptance and inclusion of people of all abilities.

    Join us this July … in Chicago!

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  • Lighting the Way

Lighting the Way

The Flame of Hope symbolizes Special Olympics’ bright vision: shining a light on the talents and abilities of people with intellectual disabilities.

This July, the Flame of Hope will mark the first 50 years of Special Olympics -- and light the way to a bright future, one that embraces and includes people of all abilities.


The flame will be lit in downtown Chicago on 20 July, the day the first Special Olympics International Games were held in 1968 at Soldier Field. A team of runners -- with and without intellectual disabilities -- will carry the torch along a four-mile course past Chicago’s scenic landmarks, parks and beaches along Lake Michigan.

The run will conclude after entering Soldier Field, the grand stadium of the "Golden Age of Sports." The Commemorative Run team will then deliver the torch for the ceremonial lighting of the Eternal Flame of Hope Monument.

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The Flame of Hope dates back to the 1960s, when the future for people with intellectual disabilities was anything but bright.

This was an age of routine institutionalization; it was a time when stigma associated with intellectual disability was extreme, as it had been for many years. “From place to place, from century to century, people with intellectual disabilities have been dehumanized, marginalized, abused, rejected, and killed, their families left to despair alone, struggling with the specter of shame and ridicule,” writes Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver in a history of the era.

In those days, there seemed to be very little hope for this neglected population. Then, in 1961, newly elected U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced that attention to and research about intellectual disability had been "too long postponed" -- and would become a national priority in the USA. This initiative would result in the first major legislation to address intellectual disability and to develop federal programs in special education, teacher training and related care. In the 1960s, a brighter future began for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

And so in 1968, at the very first Special Olympics International Summer Games in 1968, nearly 1,000 athletes from 26 U.S. states and Canada gathered for more than 200 events in track and field, swimming and field hockey. A highlight of the Opening Ceremony was the sight of a teen runner who carried a torch to light a 45-foot high "John F. Kennedy Flame of Hope."

A half-century later, the Flame of Hope tradition continues to inspire at Special Olympics events worldwide. From that humble 1968 beginning, Special Olympics local, state, national and regional competitions now number more than 100,000 a year -- plus World Summer or Winter Games every two years.


Also part of the Flame of Hope's proud history is the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics.

The LETR started in 1981 when Wichita, Kansas Police Chief Richard LaMunyon saw an urgent need to raise funds for and increase awareness of Special Olympics. The Law Enforcement Torch Run was quickly endorsed by Special Olympics and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), recognized as the founding Law Enforcement Organization of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.

Today, nearly 100,000 law enforcement members in all 50 U.S. States, 12 Canadian provinces/territories, and 48 other countries contribute to LETR efforts annually as Guardians of the Flame, ensuring the delivery of the Special Olympics Flame of Hope to the Opening Ceremonies of local Special Olympics competitions, state/provincial Games, and national/regional Games and World Games.

Since then, the Law Enforcement Torch Run has raised more than a half-billion dollars (US $500 million) for Special Olympics programs.

In the words of Richard LaMunyon, "What started in Kansas as a flicker of hope for Special Olympics has now become a roaring flame of stability for Special Olympics athletes worldwide."

LETR is changing attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities and lighting the way for acceptance and inclusion of our athletes on and off the playing field.