Involvement in the Special Olympics mission can come from many unexpected places, even from a co-worker’s recommendation from within the walls of a correctional facility.
When the sergeant who was heading the Special Olympics Committee at Oshkosh Correctional Institution was promoted in 2014, meaning he wasn’t going to be able to lead the committee any longer, he knew just the man to take his place.
“He thought I would be a good fit for the program, and the rest is history,” said Lieutenant Jason Mentzel, who has more than lived up to that astute sergeant’s expectations in the last few years through his extensive dedication to the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Wisconsin.
“In an occupation that is generally associated with a lot of negativity, it is incredibly rewarding to spend time with athletes. Their excitement, enthusiasm, positive attitudes, and drive to succeed is refreshing!” Lt. Mentzel said.
Although Lt. Mentzel, who has been in corrections for 13 years, came upon the LETR for Special Olympics Wisconsin in a roundabout way, he has thrown himself into the mission with gusto. Sometimes this is done literally by throwing himself into freezing water via the Polar Plunge. 2017 marked his fourth consecutive Polar Plunge and first in Madison after doing the previous three in Oshkosh. The change in venue came about thanks to a promotion of his own. Like his predecessor, Lt. Mentzel was promoted to a higher rank at another facility. He has recently moved to Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon.
Lt. Mentzel hasn’t let the big move halfway across the state hold him back in his support of Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes though. If anything, he has tackled the mission even harder since making the move. He works year-round to raise funds for the Polar Plunge with the goal of being the top-earning LETR team. In 2017 he almost reached that goal by ranking third in the state with almost $5,000 raised to help Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes enjoy the benefits of athletic competition.
Although the introduction to Special Olympics Wisconsin came from an unexpected place, as anyone who has been touched by a Special Olympics event can attest, once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.
Lt. Mentzel has definitely been hooked from the get-go. “In 2015 I was chosen to carry the Fox Valley Region 4 banner and escort the athletes into the Summer Games Opening Ceremony. I will never forget how proud I felt by all the hugs, high fives and handshakes I received,” Lt. Mentzel said.
His dedication to the 10,000+ athletes across Wisconsin grows with each moving, life-affirming event. There will be lots more hugs, high fives and handshakes to go around as he continues his amazing journey supporting Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes.
Let’s take this opportunity during National Correctional Officers and Employees Week to thank Lt. Mentzel and all the correctional employees across the state for their service in a difficult, dangerous, and often thankless job. Let’s also take this time to thank the correctional employees who, like Lt. Mentzel, have dedicated their time, money and efforts to support Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes through LETR for Special Olympics Wisconsin. We are truly grateful for all that you do!