Photos by Asia Morris.
An especially gray and dreary Tuesday morning failed to dampen the high spirits of an extraordinary group of joggers, a truly unique formation of law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes who make up the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) Final Leg Team.
For the past week, the red-shirted contingent, well-known as the “Guardians of the Flame,” have been carrying the torch, or Flame of Hope, to numerous cities throughout California in an effort to spread the message of acceptance and inclusion for those with intellectual disabilities throughout the state.
The LETR Final Leg Team chose Long Beach as one of the over 120 cities, towns and communities to carry the Flame of Hope before they arrive at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as part of the Opening Ceremony for the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games this Saturday.
President and CEO of Special Olympics in Southern California Bill Schumard noted the city’s significance within the movement as having been the home of the Special Olympics Summer Games at California State University, Long Beach, for nearly 20 years.
With the Queen Mary and Shoreline Village as his backdrop, Sergeant Jeff Cook of the City of O’Fallon, MO, Law Enforcement Torch Run representative, spoke about the importance of spreading awareness and the heartfelt meaning behind the event.
“Amongst this sea of officers out here there are ten athletes, but it may be hard for you to figure out which are the athletes and which are the officers,” he said. “And that’s not by accident, that’s by design, because to us we see no difference, we see no difference in these athletes and these officers.”
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia took the stage to welcome the athletes and officers to the city, while Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said that although “law enforcement doesn’t always get a fair shake, especially in the last year,” the ceremonious event is “truly reflective of what we in law enforcement do every day, 24/7.”
He continued, “We care about people we love people, we’re completely committed and dedicated to this entire community and what we’re doing these last several weeks and leading up to the special olympics is again, reflective of what law enforcement is all about.”
As the Flame of Hope was held proudly in front of Long Beach’s iconic lighthouse, with law enforcement officers and athletes taking turns to covet the flame, a Special Olympic athlete and medalist from La Spezia, Italy, Graziano Carrozzo, spoke to the crowd in Italian. And while perhaps not everyone understood his words at first, the language barrier didn’t stand a chance against the overall sentiment felt by those present, a feeling of gratitude and hope.
“I am a special olympics runner,” said Carrozzo’s translator for the athlete. “I am excited and honored and very happy to be here, especially to show you the feeling and the gratitude of 1000 Italian special athletes.”
“The sport helped me to overcome the difficulties of life,” he concluded. Carrozzo invited the crowd to visit La Spezzia, near Cinque Terre, on their next holiday.
The LETR for Special Olympics is the movement’s largest grass-roots fundraiser and public awareness vehicle. In 1981, according to the release, Kansas City Police Chief Richard LaMunyon had a small group of officers run with the torch to raise money. 34 years later, the LETR has collectively raised over 500 million to benefit local Special Olympics programs.
For more information about LETR, click here.