June 9, 2008For the past four years, Dina Gonzales, University of Houston police lieutenant, had been the sole representative from the UH Department of Public Safety (UHDPS) to participate in the Texas Special Olympics’ Law Enforcement Torch Run. This year, she took another officer along for the jog.
Last month, Gonzales inspired UHDPS officer Jocelyn Ballard to join her for this event in which police from across the state make the trek from Houston to Arlington – the site of the games – carrying the Texas Special Olympics Torch.
“I really didn’t have to persuade her,” Gonzales said. “All I said was that she would have fun, and she was ready to participate.”
Gonzales and Ballard were among the officers representing the Gulf Coast region. Law enforcement officials from other regions began their trek from different Texas cities. All volunteers ran and biked through designated routes and also rode in automobiles through different stretches of the trip to Arlington. Those new to the experience are sometimes intimidated by the long trip, which requires endurance and strength.
Gonzales discovered during her first Torch Run that the support and camaraderie of her fellow officers made the event less of a physical challenge and more of a good time. This year, Ballard found out the same thing.
“It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re a good runner,” Ballard said. “Being part of this community effort makes the Torch Run fun but more importantly rewarding.”
Both Ballard and Gonzales had the opportunity to actually carry the torch during various legs of the run, but the most satisfying part of the journey was its conclusion. When they and their fellow police officers made their way into the site of the Texas Special Olympics, the University of Texas at Arlington’s Maverick Stadium, they were greeted by the cheers of thousands of athletes and fans.
“I get goose bumps just thinking about it,” Gonzales said. “This is the most emotional part of the whole experience, and it makes the trip completely worth it. When you run into the stadium and see all those athletes and their families and how much they appreciate you, it’s incredible.”
Ballard also was speechless when she felt the energy of the athletes in the stadium, and plans to accompany Gonzales on future Torch Runs.
“I would encourage any officer to volunteer for this event,” Ballard said. “Everyone will have a good time with this, no matter what their running abilities are. There are participants from ages 18 to over 50 years of age. This is a wonderful chance for law enforcement personnel to raise money for a great cause.”
The Law Enforcement Torch Run is the Special Olympics’ largest grassroots fundraiser and public awareness vehicle. Each year, officers around the world carry the flame to support Special Olympics’ events and raise funds through merchandise sales, donations and pledges for runners in the Torch Run. Although the Torch Run is over, Gonzales and Ballard still have a limited number of T-shirts available for a donation of $10. All funds go directly to Texas Special Olympics. To obtain a T-shirt, contact Gonzales at firstname.lastname@example.org.