April 22nd, 2024

Special Olympics torch run hits the road


By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on February 24, 2024.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Special Olympian David Hall of Calgary and LPS constable Braylon Hyggen carry the Special Olympics torch down 4 Ave. S. after leaving City Hall on Friday morning

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

With chilly winds, the final leg of the Special Olympics Torch Run hit the pavement on Friday morning outside of City Hall.

The Special Olympics Canada Winter Games open Tuesday in Calgary with athletes arriving there on Sunday. The games run until March 2.

Led by Special Olympian David Hall of Calgary, runners from across the steps bounded from City Hall onto 4 Ave. S. and ran to Galt Gardens where they boarded a bus after dignitaries lit the Special Olympics Flame of Hope.

The torch was lit during a ceremony at City Hall involving numerous dignitaries including Lethbridge MP Rachael Thomas, mayor Blaine Hyggen and Lethbridge Police Services chief Shahin Mehdizadeh.

Master of Ceremonies Constable Braylon Hyggen of LPS, who was the organizer for the final leg, has been involved with the Torch Run for 15 years and led the contingent of runners with Hall.

After leaving Lethbridge on Friday, the relay headed to Coaldale and Taber, to Brooks and then onward to Medicine Hat where it culminated with a polar plunge.

Today, there are polar plunges scheduled for Calgary and Canmore.

On Sunday, there will be a run in Red Deer and another polar plunge followed by runs Monday in Camrose and Edmonton.

On Tuesday, the torch will be carried through Airdrie to Calgary with a run through Chinook Mall and a second run at the Saddledome before opening ceremonies that night at 8 p.m.

The torch run is organized by the Law Enforcement Torch Run which is the largest global fundraising organization for the Special Olympics, having raised $1 billion – $100 million of that in Canada – since humble beginnings in 1981 when the police chief of the Wichita, Kansas police department, Richard LaMunyon and five members of his force handed out medals to Special Olympians and were touched by the joy and excitement the athletes had, a large gathering was told Friday.

LaMunyon thought a torch run would support the Kansas Special Olympics effort and get law enforcement more involved in their communities

The first Canadian Torch Run was staged in Toronto in June, 1987 and Alberta has one of the strongest programs, said national co-ordinator Mark McGugan told the crowd.

“Today there are 94 programs in the world with nearly 100,000 torch runners, said McGugan, noting 11 of Canada’s 12 LETR programs were represented in Lethbridge on Friday.

“The province of Alberta has one of the strongest Canadian torch run programs and has been recognized internationally,” he added.

“What started out as a small flicker of hope in Kansas in 1981 is now a roaring flame of stability around the world,” McGugan said, quoting LaMunyon.

Matt Burton, chair of the southwest region of the torch run, said before the event that “it’s a huge huge honour to be part of this team. We have over 25 members” from all over Canada in Alberta for the event, he said.

“It’s been a lot of work to get here but we’re happy to see the start of it happen today.”

Friday was the first ceremony of the week. The torch run has been through here previously, most recently in 2019.

Burton said “Special Olympics has grown so immensely” over the last decades. Now more than, 2,000 officers are involved across the country in various ways all in an effort to spread the message of inclusion for Special Olympics athletes,” he said.

Hyggen said “I’m happy it’s finally here. It’s been a long road getting everything planned and getting everything organized so I’m happy to finally have it happening.”

In the 15 years, he’s been involved with the torch run, Hyggen said organizing this event was probably the biggest task he’s taken on, getting law enforcement members from coast to coast involved.

The event is well represented from law enforcement across the country, he added.

Special Olympian Hall – a track and field athlete – will be participating in three of the polar plunges, said Hyggen.

“It’s great to see the ability that these athletes have. No matter what the challenges they have had, they overcome and the supports and the camaraderie with this organization brings them out of their shell and gives them something to do and something to prove themselves and to show their abilities that they do have,” added Hyggen, who was in Berlin last year with the torch run.

Thomas told the crowd the Special Olympics are about inclusion and opportunity.

The MP pointed out that a Lethbridge figure skater will be representing the city in the games.

“I think that is so noteworthy,” she said to applause.

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