From June 27 to July 1, Kenosha Police Officer Kate Schaper represented Wisconsin in the Law Enforcement Torch Run® Final Leg for Special Olympics at the USA Games. After nearly a decade of dedication to the athletes of Special Olympics Wisconsin, she was selected to join dozens of members of law enforcement from around the country in escorting the Flame of Hope across the state of Washington and ultimately to Husky Stadium in Seattle to kick off the Games. Schaper spoke with us about her experience as a Guardian of the Flame. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
SOWI: What was it like getting to carry the Flame of Hope across the whole state as a member of the Final Leg?
Schaper: The feeling of running alongside other Final Leg runners carrying the Flame of Hope throughout the state of Washington was absolutely electric. Being surrounded by so many officers representing their states with the common theme of inclusion was indescribable. To be surrounded by these men and women who all have huge hearts, determination and understanding of our mission made the long days and hard runs easy. Each run was led by cadences which brought citizens out of their homes to view us. Each town had a unique way of welcoming us to their city.
SOWI: What was it like to go into Husky Stadium with the Team Wisconsin delegation?
Schaper: Entering Husky Stadium with Team Wisconsin was the pivotal point in the the Final Leg week. I met with Team Wisconsin when we arrived. When we were called to exit the basketball stadium and enter the tunnel that Husky Football players exit I stood next to an athlete and he uttered, “I’m so HAPPY I’m walking next to you.” It brought tears to my eyes that we both had no clue who each other were but we were there for two reasons: inclusion and for him to have the time of his life. When I got home I was on Facebook and have been a long time follower of ESPN. I watched a video of an athlete receiving notification of him being accepted to the USA Games in Seattle and at that moment I realized that Michael Poll was the athlete that I walked into the stadium with. I was instantly moved to tears as this video shows the reason why we do this.
SOWI: Do you have a favorite moment from the run?
Schaper: My favorite moments of the runs were the cadences, the cities welcoming us to their towns and the friendships made with other torch runners. Leavenworth was a cute little Bavarian town and they represented their city very well with their welcoming of us Torch Runners. My absolute favorite part of the run was a fellow friend/torch runner who ran into a pole entering one of the events. He wasn’t injured but after a long day of running and heat it was sure a great laugh to all of us in the back of the run!
SOWI: What was the most beautiful part of the state that you saw during the event?
Schaper: The absolute most beautiful place we ran in and visited was Shelton. We started from a small business strip where it appeared no one was working. As we began running the cool breeze took over and the roadway was lined with gorgeous pine trees, which are my absolute favorite. The run continued up a hill and once we reached the top and realized where we were going, the seclusion of our run opened up into this gorgeous resort called Alderbrook Resort. We ran down the hill onto their property and through their corridor and were greeted by a large welcoming crowd. The resort opened up to a gorgeous lake and pier and had wooden chairs and a fire pit for their guests. The resort was exceptional in welcoming us and providing us with an exquisite dinner that was the best we had all week. The resort was perfect as it was the last one of the day for us and it provided everyone with gorgeous views, solitude and the ability to reflect on all of the hard work everyone was putting into this Final Leg. Truly another moment I’ll never forget.
SOWI: What was the most rewarding part of participating in the event?
Schaper: The most rewarding part was listening to all of the athletes during the Final Leg speak at the cities we visited. I learned so much from them. Many of the athletes have competed in multiple Games, run marathons, and even live independently on their own. Never in any point of the long days or exhausting runs did they ever complain. They were full of smiles, high fives and encouraging words. Danny Williamson from Massachusetts was exceptionally moving. Danny stated in his speeches and in speaking with him that he stutters when he speaks. However, he said when he sings he no longer stutters. Danny sang the National Anthem and “My Way” by Frank Sinatra for all of us at Seattle University and he ended his week out by singing the National Anthem in front of Tim Shriver at our final team dinner at Brooks Headquarters.
SOWI: What would you tell future USA/World Games Torch Runners about the experience and expectations?
Schaper: I would encourage them to be fully present at these events and to interact with the athletes on each team. They’re the reason we are here and we can learn so much as humans from them about their strength, determination and kindness. After each presentation in the cities you visit there’s a time to interact with the crowd that shows up, interact and talk with all of those people. Time moves very quickly but it’s so refreshing to hear that each state is involved in these efforts to make the world more inclusive. The experience is so hard to put into words. They have always said, “you wouldn’t understand, it’s a torch run thing.” I can say one thing: USA Games Final Leg was the best experience of my life. It moved me higher than I thought it would and it changed me.