BOZEMAN — The final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) ends Wednesday in front of Montana State's Sonny Holland Statue, which kicks off the 2023 Montana Special Olympics State Summer Games in Bozeman.
However, before this year's athletes and local law enforcement run the final stretch down Main Street, it's important to know where this tradition originated from.
In 1981, Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon was searching for a way to get involved with his state's Special Olympics.
LaMynyon and his officers already had a strong passion for running, and so they did just that, running the torch into the Kansas State Games.
“Afterwards people were calling him and we're like, so what now, what can we do to help?" Montana LETR Development Director Amy Bliss smiled. "And so he said, give me money!”
While LaMunyon and his crew only raised a couple of hundred dollars in 1981 for Special Olympics Kansas, the police chief saw the value in building a relationship with their local athletes, which is why he brought the idea to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
With the IACP's official support in 1983, the Law Enforcement Torch Run was officially endorsed.
“That partnership is friendship, but it's also one of the largest grassroots fundraisers and awareness pieces for Special Olympics," Bliss added.
As stated by LaMunyon, what started as just a flicker of hope, has now turned into a roaring flame of stability worldwide for Special Olympic Athletes, including right here in Montana.
“I've been involved with the torch run now for going on three years," Gallatin County Sheriff's Deputy Tanner Thompson shared. "This is one of the very few things that we have the opportunity to do to work with our athletes and see them and have them see us. It brings a lot of joy to my life and the other individuals that are law enforcement officers that participate as well.”
“I do the torch run with officers around the (county)," Special Olympics athlete Skylehr Stiles stated. "I did the Belgrade one in Belgrade, and I'm doing my 24th in Bozeman.”
On April 27, the torch started in both Eureka and Plentywood — the north corners of the state — and has since moved down closing in on Butte and Big Timber.
The two flames will join as one on Wednesday at Lindley Park in Bozeman before making the final trip down Main Street toward Bobcat Stadium.
“See everybody, come see us," Stiles proclaimed. "Cheer us on in the Special Olympics.”
“We would love just to have the community support as these officers, as they refer to themselves as the guardians of the flame, you know, carry the flame of hope here to Bobcat Stadium to officially light the cauldron during our opening ceremonies which kicks off the games, Bliss concluded.