Celebrating 40 years: A look back at Wichita’s roots for the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Back in 1981, former Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon along with five other WPD officers felt a need to help the Kansas Special Olympics.

“What can we do?” LaMunyon remembers his officers asking. “I said, ‘We’ll send money.'”

So, they ran a torch 5.8 miles from Wichita City Hall to South High School creating the first-ever Special Olympic’s Law Enforcement Torch Run.

“You never know what’s going to happen with an idea,” he said.

With some persuasion by Chief LaMunyon, the Law Enforcement Torch Run spread like wildfire.

“We started with one state, the state of Kansas. We then went to like six states. Then, we went to like 12 states, and then all of a sudden, every state got involved,” he said. “Canada was the first outside of the United States to get involved; all their provinces came on board. And then all of a sudden, we’re in Europe. We’re in Japan. We’re in China. We’re everywhere that you can think.”

Four decades later, people are flying to Wichita from all over to re-create the run that started it all.

“We got torch runners from California, Hawaii, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, we got a bunch of torch runners coming in,” said Chris Moore, Kansas State Director for the LETR.

The LETR has become the largest grassroots fundraiser in Special Olympics history.

Through annual torch runs more than $900 million has been raised for the Special Olympics.

“What really started here is a flicker of hope for Kansas Special Olympics has become a roaring flame of stability for Special Olympic athletes around the world,” LaMunyon said.

The funds raised giving hope and purpose to their athletes.

“They’re just smiles, it doesn’t matter what place they get. They just compete and they have fun,” said Jason Rader, Special Olympics coach.

The 40th Wichita Law Enforcement Torch Run kicks off on Sunday morning, June 6, at 9 a.m. in front of Wichita’s City Hall.

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