Members of police forces in five states, as well as from across the ditch from New Zealand’s police force, together with Special Olympians and students from East Gippsland Specialist School, last Thursday participated in the Bairnsdale leg of this year’s Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), which raises awareness and much-needed funds to assist Special Olympics athletes.
The Gippsland Region Engagement and Awareness Tour (GREAT) started on Monday morning at the Melbourne Victoria Police Centre, headed for Warragul and Korrumburra. Tuesday saw the torch run visit Leongatha and Moe and on Wednesday it ran through Traralgon and Sale. Bairnsdale was its only stop on Thursday before finishing up in Trafalgar on Friday.
Held in partnership with Special Olympics Victoria, the LETR saw the ‘Flame of Hope’ carried through the towns with ‘come and try’ sports events in many locations, including Bairnsdale.
The Bairnsdale leg of the torch run started at Kmart, travelled down Nicholson and Bailey streets, crossed the highway and continued along the Main Street to Davison Oval where a sports program was delivered by local coaches and Special Olympics Australia athletes.
Event manager, Inspector Matt Volk, said one of the key pillars for the tour was raising awareness for people living with intellectual disability and the support that LETR provided. He said the come and try sports events promoted the importance of physical activity and wellbeing.
“We see people with disabilities lacking in opportunities, marginalised and feeling excluded. Their voices are not heard,” he said.
“I heard from a young guy on this tour who felt he couldn’t join his local basketball club. The torch run helps spread awareness, gives people a voice and also spreads awareness in the broader community to be more inclusive.
“Special Olympics provides sporting activities that are tailor made for people with disabilities, so the come and try days are terrific.
“As coppers we love this. We’re not just about law enforcement. It’s about
connecting with all parts of the community we serve.”
This was Bairnsdale Police’s Constable Felicity O’Byrne’s first LETR and she says she’ll definitely be putting her hand up for it again.
“It was amazing to be a part of, and it’s great that Bairnsdale has put on some great weather,” she said on Thursday.
“We left Melbourne on Monday in freezing conditions and it’s gradually become better and better.
“We raise money and awareness, but it’s really about the come and try activities that get the kids engaged in sports.
“It has been an awesome thing to be a part of. The kids’ faces when it’s their turn to carry the torch makes it all worth it. The traffic is stopped for them and the look is of pure joy. It’s unbelievable. All along it’s felt just incredible.”
GREAT was the third LETR, with the event visiting a different region each time.
Volunteer with the State Committee for Special Olympics Victoria, Anna Mezger, said it is a massive undertaking to make it happen.
“It takes a lot of planning, but it’s worth it. This year we’ve got six Special Olympic athletes from Melbourne along for the tour, bringing them from the metro region to rural areas to share their experiences and also develop their own volunteering and leadership skills,” she said.
“The age range of these athletes is 19 to 54 and they all have something to offer.”
LETR patron and Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said the run was a key event to raise community awareness and improve outcomes for people with disabilities.
“Attending these events and seeing our people participate alongside the athletes and their families, it is clear that community engagement is not just about interacting with people on matters of law enforcement but it is enjoying the spirit and excitement of the community,” he said.
“When you see how excited the athletes are when it is their turn to run with the torch or when they compete in an event and receive their medal from LETR and police members, we are truly connecting with the community we are entrusted to police.”
PICTURED: Among the students selected to carry the torch in Bairnsdale was Skie Roberts (right) who was accom- panied by Bairnsdale Police’s Constable Felicity O’Byrne, who was enjoying her first LETR.