On May 20, for the first time, the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg for the Special Olympics USA Games will begin right here in Chicago with a celebratory Flame Lighting Ceremony. The “Flame of Hope” will be ignited from the eternal flame at Soldier Field, which is considered to be the birthplace of Special Olympics.
The sacred Flame of Hope represents that “individuals with intellectual disabilities can be afforded opportunities to display their skills, abilities and talents,” says Team Captain of the Final Leg Torch Run, John Newnan. The Flame of Hope depicts a more inclusive world, “a world that does not judge by disability, rather ability—and treats everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve,” he says.
After the ceremony, Final Leg team members and local law enforcement officers will run three miles with the Flame of Hope, from Soldier Field to Navy Pier, where there will be another celebration.
Following the festivities, members of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, known as the Guardians of the Flame of Hope, will embark on a two-week, cross-country journey to generate excitement, raise awareness and kick off the Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida on June 5.
Newnan and the Final Leg team expect that this multi-state journey will reach thousands of people, igniting support of Special Olympics at events across the country. “It will draw a lot of fanfare,” says Director for the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run and Tinley Park Police Department Officer, Bill Devine. Deputy Chief of Operations for the Algonquin Police Department, Dennis Walker, and twotime Special Olympics USA Games gold medalist, Aaron Drescher, will represent Special Olympics Illinois as the group travels with the Flame of Hope across Ohio, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Walker and Drescher were chosen by the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run team and their peers for demonstrating leadership and commitment to the Special Olympics community. Devine is confident that the duo will be “phenomenal” representatives for Special Olympics Illinois.
Walker is honored to be a part of this historic initiative and represent Special Olympics Illinois nationally. His affinity for Special Olympics goes way back; he attended his first Special Olympics competition when he was just ten years old. Now, he is excited to continue to spread joy and facilitate positive interactions in the Special Olympics community, especially at in-person events. Last year, he and his team at the Algonquin Police Department raised awareness for the Virtual Summer Games by performing the “Tooty Ta” dance. Walker loves that he and his team have been able to “make people smile during the worst times.”
Aaron has been involved in Special Olympics for 40 years, since he was eight years old. A dedicated runner, he currently competes in track and field events, but has also participated in soccer, volleyball, softball and equestrian events. When he crosses the finish line, he remembers his biggest supporters and coaches— his mother and siblings Bryn and Creighton—who push him to do his best. On his upcoming journey across the country, he is excited to make new friends, see new places and visit theWWEheadquarters. Although the Intra-state Torch Run only occurs once a year, Devine and the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run team fundraise at monthly events all year around. They are always looking for creative ways to engage the community and raise awareness for Special Olympics. Devine encourages supporters to show up to events and cheer on athletes. “The money is great, but the big thing is acceptance,” he says, “[the special needs community] wants nothing more than to be accepted.”
Special Olympics Illinois will send a delegation of 106 athletes, partners, coaches and staff to Orlando for the 2022 USA Games. Newnan and the Torch Run team invite you to follow the Games and see the amazing skills and abilities of the Special Olympics athletes as they live up to their oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Support the Special Olympics Illinois team by following along on social media, using the hashtags #TeamSOILL and #ShineAsOne, and by visiting soill.org/usa-games/