Join Special Olympics Southern California in celebrating our 30th anniversary of the Law Enforcement Torch Run™ in Southern California.

Stories

SOSC is publishing a monthly feature highlighting some of the Law Enforcement champions who help support LETR and make an impact in the community. Read their inspirational stories below!

Mike Hallinan on LETR

The days of having "no idea what I was getting into" are far removed for Mike Hallinan and his bond with Special Olympics Southern California. The journey from being unaware to serving as a leader within the movement took time, but the 47-year-old took each opportunity as a learning experience.

Mike's involvement with the Law Enforcement Torch Run dates back to 1994, when he transitioned from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department to the Irvine Police Department.

"The Irvine Police Department had a long tradition of being actively involved with SOSC and the Law Enforcement Torch Run," said Mike, a Police Commander with the Irvine PD. "I quickly learned about Special Olympics and the amazing athletes and their families."

The unfamiliarity did not deter Mike from eventually taking on more leadership roles. He went from participating in Tip-A-Cop fundraisers to the role of agency coordinator. Each year, Mike also assists with the Orange County Spring Games and the SOSC Summer Games. Today, Mike serves on the LETR Executive Council and acts as the Regional Director for Orange County. As part of the Special Olympics Orange County Leadership Council, Mike also works closely with the other law enforcement agencies in the county to help coordinate their participation in Special Olympics events. In addition, Mike finds time to attend other various fundraisers such as the Polar Plunge, Plane Pull, World of Difference, and Special Olympics on Parade.

"Special Olympics is an amazing organization with so many ways to get involved," he said.

"There is no greater organization to be associated and to spend your time. Special Olympics has given me much more than I have given to them. I have had remarkable experiences, met wonderful people, and worked with the most amazing athletes."

His commitment locally led to even bigger, national events. In 2014, Mike was selected to represent Southern California and run the LETR Final Leg at the USA Games in New Jersey, where he ran the Flame of Hope in a multi-state Torch Run leading up to the Opening Ceremony.

The following year, the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles was on his radar. Mike was on the planning committee for the Final Leg – a 1 1/2-year endeavor that required coordinating the law enforcement runners and Special Olympics athletes from across the world who would run the Flame of Hope throughout the state of California. Mike also served on the LETR Final Leg logistics team leading up to the Opening Ceremonies. Through it all, however, the times that made the most impact and provided the greatest memories involve the athletes and their families. In fact, Mike said, his own family has learned a thing or two from the athletes.

"I have been to countless Special Olympics events and watched as lives have transformed," Mike said. "I have witnessed incredible courage, determination and resolve from individuals that could have easily given-up, but didn't and did so without any complaints. I experienced a tremendous paradigm shift from how I was helping the athletes of Special Olympics to how they were helping me. These brave athletes gave me great life perspective… it is so easy for each of us to complain about our personal struggles when others face significant daily challenges and do so without any complaints.

"Over the past 22 years working with Special Olympic Athletes and their families I have come to know many of them very well. They have significantly impacted my life and I consider many athletes close friends and family. My own children have gotten to know some of the athletes and we go to Angels games together. This has really changed the perspective of my kids to help them understand that individuals with intellectual disabilities are no different than them; they just face many more of life's daily challenges."

A Family Connection: Linda Griffin on LETR

Linda Griffin, a Detective Sergeant with the San Diego Police Department, sees the connection with the athletes of Special Olympics as a “great opportunity and privilege.”

Linda - who has spent more than 20 years involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) - has a niece, Meghean, who was diagnosed with autism. So she has already been impacted by intellectual disabilities in her personal life. But Linda eventually found out that the impact crossed over into her professional career, as well.

“To me, the athletes participating in Special Olympics have a unique and special bond with police officers,” Linda said. “Special Olympic athletes look at us, the police, as we hope to see ourselves – symbols of safety and goodness. All they desire in return is our acknowledgement, friendship and participation.

“I am so grateful for the friendships I have gained over the years through both SOSC and our local San Diego Office. Sworn and civilian partnerships for the athletes have brought about a revived definition of what community policing can represent.”

Linda has increased her involvement over the last eight years, taking the lead role in recruiting Final Leg runners, attending Special Olympics competitions to cheer on the athletes, and strategizing how LETR can grow at international conferences. She also sits on the Special Olympics Southern California LETR Council, representing San Diego County.

But it’s the more personal, candid moments Linda cherishes.

Among her highlights includes the idea of reversing the roles and getting athletes more involved with volunteering at a police event. “I felt the athletes would benefit from an opportunity to feel ‘a sense of giving’ to the very police departments who support them through the LETR,” Linda added.

So, Linda and the Special Olympics San Diego Region worked together to get athletes involved with the annual San Diego Police Officers Association Christmas Party and Toy Drive. There was one thing the athletes weren’t prepared for, however.

“The fun part for me was greeting the athletes, who for the first time, saw me dressed in ‘girly clothes’ as opposed to my uniform,” Linda said. “We all had a good laugh, as they never really imagined me in anything other than a police uniform! And of course we had to take pictures!” Athletes have now become a fixture at the event, participating each of the last four years.

The time with athletes offers Linda a perspective that carries over to the workplace. When the opportunities arise, Linda said, she lets police agencies know four things:

  • Participation provokes an officer to experience empathy, humility and selflessness
  • It enhances teamwork
  • It strengthens department pride, commitment and honor
  • The experiences make a good officer a better officer

Among the lessons everyone can learn from Special Olympics athletes, Linda said, are dedication, perseverance, kindness and forgiveness. “Athletes and their families I have had the privilege of meeting possess the purest of hearts,” she said. “They face both physical and social challenges every day, and yet display kindness, dedication and perseverance.

“My involvement with LETR, SOSC, the athletes and their families have made me a better police officer and enriched my personal life beyond measure. I am very thankful.”

More Than a Uniform: Frank Coe on LETR


The police uniform in the Special Olympics athlete community is one that is almost magnetic. More times than not, the athletes immediately feel comfortable enough to greet the men and women with a warm hug and bright smile.

Frank Coe, the former Chief of the Beaumont Police Department, found that out firsthand when he attended his first Summer Games in casual Dockers and a polo shirt. While handing out medals, he noticed the officer in full uniform next to him and the spirited reactions from the athletes who received their medals. Once Frank realized the connection associated to the uniform, he made it a point to drive home and return to the event in uniform.

“The interaction between the uniform and the athlete was so much different than I was experiencing,” he recalled.

“You have to be willing to drop your guard and appreciate the fact that these folks are in such admiration of us as law enforcement officers. They love that uniform, and it means so much to them that we’re there.”

It’s those in-the-moment experiences that Frank passes along to other officers who are getting involved with Special Olympics for the first time. But words can never paint the whole picture, Frank said.

“It’s an experience you have to experience,” Frank said. “I can’t really tell you what it’s going to feel like, but you’ll know it as soon as you experience it.” Frank first got involved with Special Olympics around 2001 while he was a Lieutenant with the Colton Police Department.

Jeanette Skinner, a Colton resident and mother of 2015 Special Olympics World Games athlete Kenneth Skinner, called the police department and wondered why it was not involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR). The Torch Run was involved in neighboring cities, but the “Flame of Hope” torch never ran through Colton. While Frank had heard about the Torch Run, it was usually after the fact through newspaper articles.

“So, I told her I’d be very interested in getting a team together, but I didn’t know how to go about it,” Frank said.

Jeanette connected Frank with a California Highway Patrol officer, who served as the Torch Run coordinator in their area at the time, and the partnership blossomed.

When Frank became the Chief of the Beaumont Police Department in 2006, he made it a point to remain involved and brought the Torch Run to his new location.

Frank helped develop the Central Riverside Torch Run, with the route stretching from Beaumont to Hemet. In the process, the Hemet Police Department became another helping hand to the cause through Frank’s connections.

That was just the beginning. Frank joined the LETR Council to help coordinate fundraising and awareness efforts throughout Southern California. In 2010, he joined Special Olympics Southern California’s Board of Directors.

“During my time I’ve been involved with the Torch Run, my family also became very involved with Special Olympics,” Frank said.

Frank’s wife joined the San Bernardino/Inland Empire Regional Council, while their daughter connected with a number of athletes in a non-Special Olympics event through a volunteer program at the University of Redlands. Frank, who is now retired, agreed to become the chair of the Regional Leadership Committee in the Inland Empire Region.

“What I appreciate most about [Special Olympics] is that it’s more than just athletics,” Frank said. “Standing up with a Global Messenger and watching them share their experiences in front of sometimes more than a hundred people is just such an amazing accomplishment for them.

“When I tell people about Special Olympics, I tell them, ‘That’s what Special Olympics is about.’ It’s about developing the confidence and the courage in people with intellectual disabilities that allow them to do things beyond what people think they’re capable of doing.”

SOSC/LETR 30th Anniversary Commerative Torch

The specially designed torch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) partnership with Special Olympics Southern California. It features recognition to the police agencies, sheriff’s departments, and all law enforcement agencies. The design highlights major attractions across Southern California, including the California state flag, wine country, the San Diego Zoo, the Hollywood sign, and beaches. The international LETR logo is also part of the design to show the global significance of the program.