PUBLISHED: 4:16 PM on Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Juneau man carries torch for Special Olympics World Games
Not everybody gets the opportunity to run through a foreign country, with crowds cheering you on-but local Terry Vrabec experienced it head on. Vrabec, 45, participated in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics World Summer Games this year. The Torch, signifying "The Flame of Hope," was lit on June 29 in Athens, Greece and made eight global stops before arriving in Beijing, China. At the final leg, Vrabec and team delivered the Torch to opening ceremony of the World Games on Oct. 2.

An honor, Vrabec was selected to represent the state of Alaska for the Torch Run.

As executive director of department of public safety, police standards council, Vrabec keeps physically fit as a spinning instructor at the gym clubs.

"We are supposed to set examples for the officers, so I try," he said with a smile.

Photo by Abby LaForce
  Terry Vrabec, recently ran in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics Summer World Games, which took place in China with opening ceremonies in Beijing.
"We start running in Shanghai. We won't run the whole country, we'd be running for months," Vrabec said, who left Juneau Sept. 22.

The Torch Run included 11 Special Olympic athletes, 104 law enforcement officers and 12 support team members assembled to fulfill the mission of the final leg.

For the final leg, officers as well as athletes run through the streets of major cities of China and hold ceremonies to share what the cause is all about. Their mission is to heighten awareness of the Special Olympics movement and the World Games in Shanghai as well as share the abilities of the athletes.

"It's unique because you get to see athletes come from around the world, some of them are incredible athletes and this means so much to them. It's humbling, but it's exciting," he said.

The total population of visited cities exceeds 80,000,000, according to sources.

He said what happens is you get to a designated location where the whole team runs in cadence and in uniform.

"With the torch, we run it into the event and then run out. And then, we load up and go to the next location," Vrabec said.

Courtesy photo
  Terry Vrabec, front right, runs with the Special Olympics torch as the Torch Run crew ran from Soldiers Field in Chicago to the 2006 National Games in Iowa.
"Even though the final leg is a very big event itself-we do fundraisers all year round across the country or across the world. We had close to 20 different cities across the world that did fundraisers at the same time," Vrabec said.

Events are an international series of torch relays, run by law enforcement officers, leading up to each state or nation's Special Olympics Summer Games.

Officers raise money in conjunction with their Torch Runs for their local Special Olympics program.

In Juneau, the law enforcement hosted a fundraiser May 19, with a 5K event, inviting friends and family to participate.

"Everything goes to the Special Olympics. In some cases we have corporate donors, but anything we raise, and every dime goes back to the athletes. So, they're not losing anything," he said. He said the Torch Run group volunteers their time and some businesses donate funds.

"Juneau actually did pretty well, for not being the largest city. We were pretty high for the money raised for the athletes, which is great because it gives them money for the events," he said concerning the run, which raised over $6,000.

Other fundraising events throughout the country included polar plunges, golf tournaments and truck pulls.

"In the lower 48, some of the restaurants have 'tip-a-cop,' where cops work like waiters or waitresses and get a portion of the money and we raise big, big money. In Seward we did a roller-blade event to the glacier," he said.

"In this case, this is a national event, the law enforcement torch were in charge of bringing it to the games. We will run the torch through cities and then run the torch into the opening ceremonies of the games and then light the cauldron. And then, our job is done," Vrabec said.

As the final leg, Vrabec said it wouldn't surprise him if they did over 50 appearances with his team. The chosen athletes were at the forefront of team and spoke at every final leg ceremony.

"Ideally, we could be running 8-10 miles a day for approximately 10 days. It's not meant to be a grueling run, because there are a lot of public appearances, a lot of public relations but you need to be able to handle long days and periods of running," he said.

The team shares the task of carrying the torch, as it can get heavy after running miles and miles.

"It's an actual lit torch, with an original wick in it. What happens is we'll have multiple torches, when one burns out and we keep rotating it back and forth. We just gotta keep the flame lit," he said.

"The people are very gracious. Towns line up a long the roads; they shut their businesses down, come out and be a part of the event when you run into town. We usually give a gift to the respective mayor, and there's a brief presentation," he said.

Vrabec also participated in the 2005 World Games in Japan.

"In Japan, it was incredible. Hundreds and hundreds of people come out these events and they were very gracious. They want to shake your hand, give you a hug-it was really touching. And, you get a chance to show the cause and to see the looks on the athletes face," he said.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run began in 1981 in Kansas. By 1985, the Torch Run had expended into eight states, and included 50 states and 38 nations by 2006. Plans for 2008 involve the expansion into Latin America and Africa.

The 2006 international event raised $26 million dollars for Special Olympics with over 85,000 law enforcement officers raising awareness and funds around the world.

For more information visit or contact 465-5523.