Colorado State Trooper Chris Wright will soon be taking the plunge - into an icy lake somewhere in South Korea. The "polar plunge" is a fundraiser for Special Olympics, and a part of the festivities happening Jan. 23-29 during the World Winter Games in Korea.
Wright will join 150 other law enforcement officers from around the world as "guardians of the flame" as they carry the Olympic torch through 22 cities, until the lighting of the cauldron at the World Winter Games opening ceremonies Jan. 23.
A Grand Junction native, and Fruita resident, Wright will represent Colorado in PyeongChang, Korea for the Law Enforcement Torch Run Special Olympics final leg in the 2013 World Winter Games.
"We will run from city to city, carrying a torch called the 'Flame of Hope,'" Wright said.
Founded in 1968, Special Olympics is the world's largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. Athletes from more than 170 countries train and compete in 32 Olympic-style summer and winter sports.
Wright will spend 10 days in Korea, where he will participate on one of 10 teams of law enforcement professionals running to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics. If Wright raises at least $2,500 he will be allowed to bring the torch he carries back to Colorado. Half of the proceeds garnered will go to Korea's Special Olympics; the other half will be donated to Colorado's Special Olympics program.
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - The Law Enforcement Torch Run was founded in 1980 in Wichita, Kan., by its state patrol chief who wanted his officers to participate in a community service project, Wright said. Colorado became involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run the following year.
"Since then, the LETR has raised $64 million worldwide," Wright said. "It is the largest grassroots fundraiser for Special Olympics in the world."
Special Olympic athletes and their families do not have to pay to participate in events that happen throughout the year.
"These are real athletes," Wright said. "I know some Special Olympic athletes in Grand Junction who actively train all year round. They have to finish in the top silver or gold to go to the state games."
Grand Junction will host the Colorado summer games for the first time this June.
International winter and summer games are held in different countries each year. Two years ago the Special Olympics Summer World Games were held in Athens, Greece.
The winter games in Korea will include standard Olympic events such as downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ice-skating, figure skating, as well as snowshoeing. Four Colorado athletes who qualified at the state games will participate in the winter games.
As deputy state director for the Law Enforcement Torch Run, Wright actively recruits officers to participate and help raise money for the cause.
On Monday nights during the winter, Wright also helps coach basketball for Special Olympic athletes. During the summer he is head golf coach for a group of kids with autism.
As a kid, Wright said he sometimes accompanied his father who worked at the Regional Center, where people with developmental disabilities lived and received services.
He finds volunteering for Special Olympics a "release" from the stresses of being a law enforcement officer. Seeing the challenges that people with disabilities face helps put his own troubles in perspective, he said.