In honor of National Police Week, we would like to recognize the courage and selflessness of all law enforcement officers in protecting our communities.
We would also like to highlight the contributions members of law enforcement have made to the SOWI mission over the last 30 years under the banner of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) for Special Olympics Wisconsin.
It has since blossomed into the largest fundraiser and public awareness promoter for SOWI. There are currently nearly 1,000 Wisconsin law enforcement personnel involved in the many events throughout the year like the Final Leg Torch Run, Run with the Cops, the World’s Largest Truck Convoy, and the Polar Plunge to name a few.
We are deeply grateful for everything LETR does for SOWI and as much as we’d love to highlight the contributions and accomplishments of so many, we’ll start with two members of LETR who have had some pretty amazing things happen this year that have capped decades of dedication to SOWI athletes.
Police Specialist Niki Nelson treks across Austria for Special Olympics
Waukesha Police Specialist Niki Nelson’s new torch arrived two weeks ago and it’s a sight to behold.
The top is a glistening polished silver while the handle is a matte silver with exquisitely detailed engravings depicting the Austrian countryside, a member of law enforcement and a Special Olympics athlete carrying a torch together, and the logo of the 2017 Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg for the Special Olympics World Winter Games.
This last detail reveals the reason for the commemorative torch. In March of this year, Specialist Nelson traveled to Austria to represent the LETR for Special Olympics Wisconsin as a Final Leg Runner at the Special Olympics World Winter Games. She served as one of 104 Guardians of the Flame who helped carry the Flame of Hope across Austria en route to the World Winter Games Opening Ceremony on March 18 in Schladming, Austria.
“Austria is something I will never forget. We covered the entire country, ran all those miles, made friends, and established bonds that will never be broken or forgotten,” Specialist Nelson said. “Some of the fondest memories from Austria are interacting with the athletes from around the world, building relationships with officers from around the world, and looking back on my team and seeing them as a family,” Specialist Nelson said.
Specialist Nelson was selected to represent the LETR for Special Olympics Wisconsin after nearly two decades of service to our athletes. She serves as chairperson for the LETR for the Wisconsin Professional Police Association as well as Assistant Torch Run Director for Wisconsin’s LETR State Council. She has also served on numerous committees that have helped organize a variety of fundraising events over the years. All told, Nelson has helped raise over $30,000 for Special Olympics Wisconsin in her two decades of involvement. Her enthusiasm, dedication and continuous support of Special Olympics Wisconsin have helped to get many other police officers and citizens involved as well.
As someone who has personified the spirit of LETR for nearly 20 years now, Specialist Nelson is a true Guardian of the Flame. And although she probably won’t be lighting her new commemorative torch anytime soon, it serves as a beautiful reminder of the Flame of Hope that burns at the beginning of each Special Olympics competition for courage and inclusion, as well as her journey of a lifetime to Austria.
Deputy Lori Casper is a hero to Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes, including her son
Special Olympics Wisconsin athlete Jill Mulroney thinks so highly of Deputy Lori Casper of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office that she has a picture of her on her wall.
And she’s probably not the only one. Over the course of 18 years, Deputy Casper has established herself as a true force of nature in supporting the athletes of Special Olympics Wisconsin. Her contributions to SOWI were recognized earlier this month when she was awarded the 2017 LETR for Special Olympics Wisconsin Volunteer of the Year Award on May 6.
Deputy Casper’s involvement with SOWI is so extensive that it’s difficult to summarize them all briefly but her service includes 14 years of coaching in sports as varied as bowling, bocce, basketball and track and field; involvement in the Madison Polar Plunge for 17 of the 18 Plunges that have taken place; countless years of volunteering at the regional track & field competition in Oregon; and serving on the Madison Polar Plunge committee along with her son, Jake Casper, a Special Olympics Wisconsin athlete.
Regardless of the event or the manner in which she’s involved, when athletes see Deputy Casper, they light up.
“It makes me remarkably proud to be welcomed by these athletes. The rewards are the smiles on their faces, and the hugs they give you,” Deputy Casper said. “We are one big family.”
Speaking of family, Deputy Casper and her son Jake have also gotten their own family members to heavily support SOWI over the years. Deputy Casper’s mother even courageously took the plunge until she was 65. SOWI events with the Caspers have truly become family affairs.
And whether the memories were made with immediate family or the extended Special Olympics family, SOWI events and fundraisers have been unforgettable and deeply moving for Deputy Casper.
“Some of my best memories are of athletes not getting mad when they have lost a game, but getting ready for the next game with a positive attitude. My son coming up to me when I am dressed in uniform for an LETR event and saying ‘thank you and I love you.’ Athletes encouraging other athletes to do the best they can. Over 18 years, there are so many,” Deputy Casper said.
It’s no wonder Deputy Casper was honored with the LETR Volunteer of the Year Award this year given how much of an impact she has made on the Special Olympics community in Oregon and statewide. But given the selflessness and humility you would expect from someone who has worked in law enforcement for over 25 years, Deputy Casper keeps things in perspective.
“To receive the award this year was both an honor and very humbling to me. These athletes have to put up with me, and yet they keep coming back for more. There are so many officers that help with LETR and Special Olympics events. I am just one of them. It is hard to talk about myself, because without them all standing by me, I could not do what I do,” Deputy Casper said.
We sincerely thank Deputy Casper, Specialist Nelson and all the law enforcement personnel of the LETR for Special Olympics Wisconsin who stand together in the efforts to support, encourage, coach and fundraise for the athletes across the state. To borrow Deputy Casper’s eloquent line, without you we could not do what we do.