Delaware Law Enforcement for Special Olympics has touched lives for 30 years

posted Fri, Sep 16, 2016 by Jon Buzby

Law Enforcement for Special Olympics has been a grassroots movement in Delaware for 30 years.

Globally, Law Enforcement for Special Olympics (LESO) is an international grassroots initiative involving law enforcement officers from all agencies volunteering to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics.

Locally, here in Delaware, LESO is celebrating its 30th year of raising awareness and financial support for more than 4,000 Special Olympics athletes who compete in 20 sports year-round in the First State.

“What is truly remarkable about the impact LESO has had here in Delaware is how it has kept pace with the increasing needs of our organization as it has grown,” Special Olympics Delaware executive director Ann Grunert said. “Their efforts have enabled us to reach more athletes, offer them more sports, and provide them with opportunities that otherwise would not be as easily implemented. The organization’s dynamic and ever-growing relationship with law enforcement has to be considered one of the greatest achievements of the Special Olympics movement.”

A special reception thanking officers for their 30 years of contributions was held Aug. 25 at the Delaware State Troopers Association Hall in Smyrna. Honored guests included officers from various agencies who have been key members of committees and served in critical roles throughout the years. In addition, officers who have been named Torch Runner of the Year and the Special Olympics Athletes of the Year who joined them to light the cauldron at Summer Games were also recognized. 

“It is the dedicated men and women of law enforcement, in your uniform, who acknowledge our efforts with great honor and dignity,” Phil Saxon, a Wilmington Wizards athlete, said during his presentation. “You validate who we are as athletes, and help us believe that with a lot of hard work, we, too, can achieve great things.”

Thousands of officers have been involved in Delaware LESO in some capacity during the past three decades, but it has been one man who has spearheaded and led the effort for all 30 years. Retired DSP Capt. John Miller has served as Delaware’s LESO state director since the movement’s inception and received a special tribute from Commissioner Robert Coupe of the Delaware Department of Correction.

“John Miller became inspired by the cause and that inspiration became his passion, a passion and commitment that empowered John to inspire other [officers] to participate with Special Olympics,” Coupe said in his remarks. “It was simply the love and compassion in his heart to help create an environment where Special Olympians could enjoy the spirit of competition. Where Special Olympic athletes could grow on a personal level and receive recognition for their efforts and accomplishments. John simply cared so much that he was willing to commit his life to this mission of Special Olympics Delaware and to Delaware’s Law Enforcement for Special Olympics. During his 30-year journey he inspired so many to join the cause along the way.” 

The 30-year effort here in Delaware started with a handful of police officers representing every agency throughout the state volunteering their time to help raise money and awareness by running the Special Olympics torch into the Opening Ceremony of the Summer Games in June. Over the years, the handful of officers has turned into hundreds, and the running of the “Flame of Hope” has become a 160-mile trek from the southern part of the state to Newark with several ceremonial stops along the way.

“Since 1994, Delaware Torch Run has set the standard for the ‘Flame of Hope,’ keeping it lit during the entire 160-mile journey of the Torch Run,” Miller explained. “The men and women of Delaware law enforcement work and live with the Special Olympics athletes in every city, town and community in the great state of Delaware. This grassroots nature of the Torch Run and Special Olympics Delaware helped fuel the initial success of the Torch Run. Today, at its core, Delaware Law Enforcement for Special Olympics remains an amazing grassroots success story and true phenomenon.”

From that original Torch Run concept, the Summer Games effort has expanded to officers now carrying the torch into every SODE event, regardless of size or location. It’s a state-wide and agency-wide effort that has involved thousands of officers over the years.

Without question the most powerful direct impact the officers have on the athletes is when they appear in uniform as honored guests at every single awards ceremony that takes place throughout the year. It is there where the hanging of a medal around an athlete’s neck, followed by a handshake or high-five, or in some cases a hug, demonstrates the respect and admiration the athletes have for the officers … and in turn, the officers have for the athletes.

“These medal moments inspire athletes and families at Special Olympics competitions all over the world … and represent our finest hour in sports,” Saxon told the audience. “For us athletes, standing on the podium is one of the best feelings. You lift our spirits by presenting us with the medal. And … the feeling is even more significant because of all of you. It is because of you that these medals have tremendous meaning.”

In addition to the Torch Run and medal ceremonies, Delaware LESO organizes several fundraisers which involve different populations across the state. From truckers driving their rigs in the Truck Convoy in September to motorcycle enthusiasts biking in the Ride to the Tide in April; from adults reliving their childhood at Dodgeball Madness to others rappelling 17 stories down the side of the building or plunging in the frigid ocean, LESO has successfully raised awareness of SODE and funds for it by reaching previously untapped audiences.

“The impact of the LESO partnership with Special Olympics Delaware is many things, at many levels,” Miller said. “It's hugely successful, subtle, engaging and enlightening, heartwarming, completely satisfying and rewarding, and far reaching. People talk about the wonderful impact that uniformed police officers have on the athletes when they present medals, but the real impact is on the police officers, our athletes' families and all of our communities and schools.” 

This story will appear in the upcoming issue of "The Delaware Trooper."