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GPD joins Ala. Law Enforcement Torch Run

Approximately 7,400 feet span the distance between the Greenville Police Department and Tiger Stadium, but a handful of officers made the annual trek—with an Olympic torch in tow—for the sake of the 2017 Special Olympics.

And though the sacred tradition has been carried out for several years within the Camellia City, the origin of the practice is a rather humble one by comparison, according to Special Olympics law enforcement liaison Robert Copus.

“In 1984, a police chief in Wichita, Kansas, was looking for some outreach for his officers, and someone said ‘Hey, they’re doing the local games over here at the stadium.  Why don’t ya’ll run the torch in?’” Copus said. “And that’s what they did.”

Soon, all of the adjacent cities picked up on the trend.  Not long after that, the tradition had spread to the remainder of the United States.

Now, all 50 states’ police officers will run torches into their games.  Just a month ago over in Austria, they had the Winter Games Special Olympics, and police officers from all over the world, including 50 from the United States and one from Alabama, skied the torch in to the opening games. 

For Copus, a member of the Alabama Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics, his own involvement began at his local games 22 years ago, followed eventually by participation in the statewide games in Troy. And though his career as a police officer came to a close in January, he accepted a new mission almost immediately afterward.

“Now, as a volunteer, I go around to different events and I encourage other police officers to get involved,” Copus said. “And liaison with the Special Olympics to ask ‘what can I do to make your games better?’

“Everybody has a call; it’s just a matter of picking up that torch and carrying it.  For me, it’s the Special Olympics. For many, many years, the intellectually-disabled community were shut in and put in institutions—it was just not right.  And Eunice Kennedy Shriver took it upon herself to make this work, and it grew from her backyard into what it is today.”

Those in the intellectually disabled community have been given many names throughout the years. But for Copus, they’ve only ever had just one.

To me, they’re just special people,” he said.

“How can you say that someone is intellectually disabled who treats everybody the same, and smiles regardless of whether you’re a young person, an old person or what country you’re from or what your religion is? If you want to come out here and have fun with them, then they’ll treat everybody the same.  And really, that’s the ultimate in intellectuality.”