The 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games were held in Austria from March 14-25, featuring more than 2,600 athletes and 1,100 coaches from 105 countries.
Joining the honored delegations were members of law enforcement from around the world, representing their respective countries as part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR). The LETR is Special Olympics’ largest grassroots fundraiser, as officers carry the Flame of Hope through communities to raise awareness for the program and ultimately arrive at the Opening Ceremonies for individual competitions.
Santa Clara Assistant Chief of Police Dan Winter was selected to represent Special Olympics Northern California (SONC) on the Final Leg Team of the LETR for the World Winter Games and had the opportunity to travel across the globe to join the experience. He and more than 80 officers from 24 countries, including 50 from the United States, joined together to carry the Flame of Hope through 50 cities, towns and villages across all nine Austrian states. The journey took 10 days and culminated at the Opening Ceremony inside Planai Stadium in Schladming, Austria, on March 18.
“It was an incredible experience,” said Winter, who also serves as the state director of LETR for Special Olympics and sits on SONC’s board of directors. “It really gave me a global perspective of Special Olympics. I have been so focused on Northern California and what we do here; the experience opened my eyes to how Special Olympics is such a global movement, and the support it has around the world.”
Winter was part of Final Leg Team 6, which, along with others like it, was responsible for delivering the Flame of Hope through the country to kick off the World Winter Games. On his team alone there were officers representing Costa Rica, Italy, Australia, Canada, Austria and the U.S.
“Even though there were some significant language barriers, we were able work together and form a pretty close bond as a team,” said Winter. “We’re all from different countries and cultures, but we were united in our love and appreciation for Special Olympics. We had an immediate bond because of our common goal and purpose.”
A Special Olympics athlete was also represented on each Final Leg Team. Francis Mauro, a 25-year-old athlete from Gibraltar, joined Winter and Team 6 and was part of a number of ceremonies and speeches during the run. A ceremony was held in each city that the teams passed through, as city officials, local law enforcement and residents of the communities came out to welcome and support Special Olympics and the journey.
“The people of Austria were incredibly friendly,” said Winter. “Very active, very content people. They have a beautiful country.”
One stop was particularly memorable for Winter.
“We got to a small city in Austria called Kufstein and it felt like the entire town was out there to greet us,” he said. “The town was just like a postcard – cobblestone streets, church steeples and snow-covered mountains all around us. We ran into town through streets lined with school children cheering and waving the Final Leg flag.