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Throwing Weight Behind Special Olympics

Va. Truck Pull Raises Funds for Games

By David Cho
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2004; Page B03

The weakest teams got the most cheers yesterday during the Truck Pull, a Special Olympics fundraiser organized in the parking lot of the Pentagon by an international group of police officers.

The teams' goal was to be the fastest to drag a 26,000-pound mobile command unit -- which looked like an oversize RV with police markings -- two dozen feet using a thick, braided rope attached to the vehicle's hitch. But when a team of Missouri police started pulling with all their might, they barely got it to budge.

Shelli Henson, left, Bob Basile and Roxane Thompson of southern Florida try to pull the mobile command center. (Photos Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

Seeing the team struggle, the crowd of 200 began shouting out encouragements. "Pull, pull, pull," they chanted. "Don't give up," someone cried out above the din.

About 40 biceps-busting seconds later, the Missourians finished the task, puffing and panting. They put in the second-worst time of the day, but there were smiles on their faces.

"They must have had to use a sundial to measure our time," joked Randy Werner, a police sergeant from Jefferson City.

Werner and the other officers, who came from around the world, weren't playing to win for themselves. They had gathered in Arlington County to participate in a weekend conference of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, the largest grass-roots fundraiser for the Special Olympics.

The group raised more than $20 million worldwide last year to help mentally disabled athletes participate in games at local, state and international venues. Torch Run chapters in Maryland, the District and Virginia have generated $2 million this year, said Roy D. Zeidman, vice president of Special Olympics Virginia.

The aim of these efforts is to provide encouragement and an uplifting experience for the athletes, Zeidman said.

"All the athletes are looking for is for people to accept them for who they are," Zeidman said.

Added Werner: "We give to the athletes, and they end up giving to us. The athletes always say that we inspire them, but really, they end up inspiring us."

The Torch Run refers to the "Flame of Hope" that is carried in a relay race by police officers and athletes to the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics. It was started in 1981 by a police chief in Wichita and adopted as the Special Olympics' main fundraiser in 1985. Today, Torch Run includes 85,000 officers worldwide.

Its annual conference draws hundreds in law enforcement and trains them to hold effective fundraisers. This weekend, participants organized an auction, a five-kilometer run near the Iwo Jima memorial and the truck pull at the Pentagon.

"These were fundraisers for us and training exercises for them," said Zeidman, who estimated that the weekend's events could generate $20,000.

The conference was kicked off with a speech by Max Overton, 41, of Virginia Beach, who has won gold and silver medals in Special Olympics swimming events. "The police are friends," he said. "They help out . . . athletes all over the world."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company