Work Ethic Camp teammates run Special Olympic torch at international conference

Work Ethic Camp teammates run Special Olympic torch at international conference

Running with a torch full of fire can be a nerve-racking experience for many. But for one of Nebraska’s Work Ethic Camp teammates, it was an exhilarating experience she’ll never forget. “The most memorable moment was being able to hold the torch with Hanna, a Special Olympics athlete, during the Torch Run and getting to know one of Nebraska's athletes, John better,” said Unit Caseworker Jackie Thelen.

Thelen and Unit Caseworker David Jordan represented the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services at the international Law Enforcement Torch Run and conference held in Denver, Colorado this year. They were two of hundreds of people in corrections and other types of law enforcement who came together to raise money for Special Olympics and people with intellectual disabilities. They were part of the Council for LETR Nebraska.

“Being a part of the conference is a truly humbling experience, said Thelen. “Not only are you surrounded by 1,200 law enforcement officials from all over the world, but athletes and their families. You definitely don't understand the impact the LETR has until you hear an athlete get up on stage, tell their story about how they overcame so many challenges, how the Special Olympics has changed their lives, given them hope, courage, and self-worth.”

Nearly four years ago, Warden Pam Morello and Assistant Warden Deanna Johnson gave Thelen a few encouraging words and a gentle push to bring the torch to McCook. They had hopes of starting a Special Olympics run to raise money for the non-profit group. Thelen said becoming the event organizer was out of her comfort zone. “The first year I had four runners and only two athletes show up for the event. I was completely prepared to throw in the towel and not be in charge of the run again the next year until I got to talking to the athletes about the events. I spoke to an athlete’s mom who was crying. She was so thankful for us and how we were supporting the athletes. That is when I realized this is just not any other run. It's not just any other fundraising event. It is hope, unity and inclusion. Now, almost four years later, I can’t imagine my life without the LETR.”

Unit Caseworker David Jordan attended the Law Enforcement Torch Run Conference. He got involved in Special Olympics after Thelen gave him a friendly nudge to get involved as well. He now helps with the McCook Torch Run and a nearby Polar Plunge. He said the international conference was an amazing opportunity to meet law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes from around the world. “I met an officer from as far away as Australia and closely bonded with the rest of the law enforcement group from Nebraska. The three days were filled with entertainment such as savant artist Alonzo Clemons who sculpted two incredibly detailed animal pieces with his hands, a power-lifting demo and a comedian police officer Vinnie Montez also performed.”

Jordan said the most memorable moments were listening in awe to the speeches from athletes and their families on how Special Olympics has had a positive impact on their lives. “A personal favorite of mine was the mother of a young man named Finn who talked about how the Special Olympics Young Athletes program had improved his quality of life and brought him closer to his family.”

The LETR has gone on for 35 years. You can find a variety of fundraisers across Nebraska including Polar Plunges, community Torch Runs, Cop on a Rooftop and Tip-A-Cops. Be on the lookout for more fundraisers to support Special Olympics in McCook and across Nebraska.

A final highlight was learning the Special Olympics oath,” said Jordan. “It goes, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” This is a motto I think we all can benefit from.”