KALISPELL – More than 200 athletes competed in the Special Olympics Montana Glacier Area Games on Friday.
Special Olympics is in its 50th year and that’s in part thanks to law enforcement who each year hold events like the torch run which is the biggest fundraiser in the country.
Kalispell Police Department K9 Officer and guardian of the Flame of Hope Jason Parce escorted the athletes at the summer games opening ceremony at Legends Stadium on Friday.
“We see ourselves as kind of the guardians of the flame and essentially our job is to protect that flame. And that Flame of Hope [is] for special Olympic athletes and those in our country and in our world with physical and intellectual disabilities,” Parce said.
He told MTN News that one of his favorite moments of the games is crowning the athletes with their medals.
“Our job is to interact with the athletes to cheer on the athletes and to interact their families and other members of the public, and of course our favorite part is presenting the athletes with their medals,” Parce said.
Along with officers from the Kalispell Police Department officers from the US Border Patrol were also on hand.
But ahead of the event,0 money is raised through events such as the Special Olympics Torch Run to help purchase the athlete’s uniforms and pay for things like travel and boarding.
“We run with that flame of hope and what we do is run through communities across Montana with Special Olympic athletes and their families to raise awareness and funds,” Parce said.
“Law enforcement devotes so much time with the torch runs and coming to these events to do the ribbon ceremonies,” Team Wildkats coach Susie Barth said. “They bring their K9’s. The kids love the K9’s and they just love the officers because they’re so friendly and they’re really good to our athletes,”
The Montana Special Olympics State Summer Games will take place from May 15 until May 18 in Great Falls.
Reporting by Nicole Miller for MTN News