Local Officer Carries the Heartbeat into the World at Special Olympics Games
The 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games concluded last week in Graz and Schladming, Austria. Among the Vermonters represented at the Games was Bruce Merriam, an officer with the Stowe Police Department and Co-Director of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Vermont.
“I’m having an awe-inspiring Final Leg experience. Incredible!” reported Merriam from the road outside Schladmig.
Eighty-four law enforcement officers from twenty-four countries as well as ten Special Olympics athletes from as many countries assembled in Austria to carry the Flame of Hope which is used to light the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony celebration. The ten-day, twenty-nine mile journey through forty-nine Austrian cities and towns was a celebration of the Games and the Special Olympics message of hope, acceptance, and inclusion.
“We are so proud that our own Bruce Merriam was selected to represent Vermont and the United States in the World Games,” says Lisa DeNatale, President and CEO of Special Olympics Vermont. “Bruce embodies an infections spirit of volunteerism and I can’t think of a person better suited to carry the Flame of Hope.”
In addition to being physically fit, Final Leg runners are challenged with a fundraising goal of $2,500. Before traveling to Austria, Merriam had raised more than $3,000 to support athletes with intellectual disabilities competing in the World Winter Games. “My children are grown and I have time to volunteer,” says Merriam. It [the Torch Run] gives athletes confidence and I’m proud to be part of it and see it grow.”
Midway through his journey, Merriam learned that he and an athlete from Australia had been selected for the great honor of concluding the Final Leg team’s duty as Guardians of the Flame of Hope. The running pair carried the Torch during the Opening Ceremony event on March 18.
Although the Final Leg Torch Run for the 2017 World Winter Games began just over two weeks ago in Bergenz, Austria, the Law Enforcement Torch Run movement began more than three decades ago in Wichita, Kansas. Today, it is the largest grassroots fundraising and awareness vehicle for Special Olympics, raising more than $50 million annually for the movement. In Vermont, Law Enforcement Torch Run initiatives raised $106,000 in 2016.
Bruce Merriam and Vermont’s Law Enforcement Torch Run Executive Council will coordinate the 33rd annual Torch Run in Vermont May 31 through June 3 leading up to the Special Olympics Vermont Summer Games. Law enforcement personnel from more than fifty departments will begin at the four corners of the state and carry the Flame of Hope to the University of Vermont for the Opening Ceremony.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to travel and meet people who have been active with the Torch Run for thirty years or more,” says Merriam. “My goal is to bring that enthusiasm home and encourage more departments, communities, and schools to get involved with supporting the important work of Special Olympics Vermont.”