Many people know the name, Special Olympics, and understand what the organization does in the community. But chances are, not as many people have heard the name, Law Enforcement Torch Run, nor do they understand how impactful it and its participants are.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) is the single largest year-round fundraising vehicle benefiting Special Olympics Illinois. The annual intrastate relay and its various fundraising projects have two goals: to raise money and to gain awareness for the athletes who participate in Special Olympics Illinois. And it does just that. The LETR has raised more than $61 million since 1986 while increasing awareness of Special Olympics Illinois athletes and their accomplishments.
Traditionally, more than 3,000 officers in the state of Illinois run more than 1,500 miles each year carrying the “Flame of Hope” through the streets of their hometowns. Together with Special Olympics Illinois athletes, these officers help to light the cauldron holding the Flame of Hope at signature Special Olympics Illinois events, like Winter Games, which has been held in Galena for the past 41 years.
One state trooper who has been involved with the Special Olympics Illinois Winter Games since 1995 is Master Sergeant Brent Massingill of the Illinois State Police District 16. Officer Massingill, just Brent at that time, was in school at Warren High School near Galena. His student council volunteered at the Winter Games each year by cheering for athletes, helping to carry skiis or snowshoes, or even skiing or snowboarding down the hill with athletes as “snow buddies.”
Fast forward more than ten years later, Brent was working with the Illinois State Police and had the idea to get involved with Special Olympics Illinois again. Challenges with scheduling and finding enough people to participate precluded Brent and his agency from diving back in. Finally, in 2008, Brent took over a safety education position in his district, which meant finding ways to be involved in the community. He and four other troopers decided to volunteer all three days at the Special Olympics Illinois Winter Games. Since 2008, Illinois state troopers from all different ranks have helped out at the Games, but two troopers in particular, Brent and his colleague, Officer Jason Wilson from District 7, have attended every single year since.
After fourteen straight years, Brent says going to Winter Games is something he looks forward to each year. “Sometimes being a police officer is very difficult,” he said, “but it’s great to come around people each year at the Games who are so pleasant and excited to be there.”
While Brent and Illinois State Police are involved through LETR, Brent says going to the Games is not just a work thing, but something he enjoys personally. “The most memorable part of Winter Games is the relationships with athletes and getting to know the folks at Special Olympics Illinois, who have become like old friends,” he said. “Special Olympics Illinois and its athletes are like an extended family to me. I get to cheer on the same athletes each year and have even stayed in touch with some through Facebook. Myself and Illinois State Police as a whole are very happy to be involved in a great organization like Special Olympics Illinois.”
Brent, his colleague Jason, and other state troopers will be at the Winter Games again this year, serving as Torch Bearers to help light the Flame of Hope at the Opening Ceremony. Officers like Brent and those at Illinois State Police are integral to the success of Special Olympics Illinois. The organization is grateful to have representatives of the community, like Brent, who devote their time to contributing to our mission.
The Winter Game is hosted each year at Chestnut Mountain Resort and Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa in Galena. This year, more than 450 athletes will compete in Alpine Skiing and Snowshoeing between Tuesday, February 1 and Thursday, February 3. The Opening Ceremony is Tuesday, February 1 at 5:30 PM CT in downtown Galena.