Central Michigan University Sergeant's dedication to Special Olympics takes him to Middle East

Over a decade ago, Sergeant Riley Olson’s former supervisor encouraged him to get involved in promoting and supporting the Special Olympics. Thirteen years later, Olson has just returned from a trip of a lifetime as a result of that work.

“Once you get involved and see the complete joy through competition, you get hooked,” explains Olson.

The CMU police officer recently spent three weeks traveling the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a representative of Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR). He says, to him, it’s all just another day in the life of a law enforcement official.

“There’s a lot of bad press about law enforcement,” says Olson, “but [in LETR] — we’re cops, corrections officers — we’re just trying to make our communities better.”

Sergeant Riley Olson poses for a photo with fellow law enforcement officers from the UAE during his trip with Law Enforcement Torch Run

LETR serves as the Special Olympics’ largest grassroots fundraising effort and a formidable force for special needs awareness and inclusion.

With more than 1,500 law enforcement officials involved statewide, the Michigan chapter of LETR raised $1.7 million in 2018 alone, and Olson says they’ve set a goal to reach $2 million in 2019.

“One of the things you see with Torch Run,” Olson says, “is that everybody knows you’re there to do something for a population that isn’t always included - you form a bond. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

During his time in the middle east Olson travelled with representatives from the Emirates government as well as special olympic athletes. This was the first time in Special Olympics history that the annual World Games has been held in the region. Olson says each day leading up to the kickoff of the games was filled with press events that took him across all seven Emirates before ending up in Abu Dhabi for the main event.

“I have to give a lot of credit to the UAE for how much they did leading up to the events,” says Olson, of the experience, “Entire communities would come out when we were there.”

It’s the kind of turnout Olson says he hopes they get for LETR events here at home. Because there is no cost associated with participation for families and individual athletes, SOMI relies on donations from individuals, groups, businesses, and fundraising organizations like LETR in order to provide special needs individuals access to twenty-seven different sporting disciplines throughout the year.

Sergeant Riley Olson poses for a photo with a Special Olympics World Games 2019 athlete during his trip to the UAE with Law Enforcement Torch Run

“We need more people to come to our runs, polar plunges, and games events,” says Olson. Not only is better turnout a good thing for LETR’s fundraising goals, Olson says everyone can benefit from seeing the impact Special Olympics has on their community and the families who benefit from its programs. “It’s an amazing sight,” he said.

Special Olympics Michigan's largest event of the year, the Summer Games 2019, will be held on the Mt. Pleasant campus of Central Michigan University May 30 through June 1, 2019. 2,900 athletes plus 3,400 coaches, volunteers, chaperones, and spectators are expected to attend.

For more information about the games visit the SOMI website. Additional dates for upcoming fundraiser runs, truck pulls, and polar plunges can be viewed at LETR’s First Giving page.

Read more articles by Diana Prichard.

Diana Prichard is a freelance journalist who has reported from seven countries on three continents, and the Managing Editor of Epicenter Mt. Pleasant.