By CSP-Sacramento staff

An employee from California State Prison, Sacramento, (CSP-SAC) was selected to travel to Seattle to represent the Northern California at the national games for Special Olympics. Community Resources Manager Therese Giannelli was tapped by Special Olympics of Northern California for the task. One law enforcement representative from each state was selected to carry the Flame of Hope from Spokane to the Seattle games. California had two representatives, one from each region.

The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, the marquee event for the organization, was held in July. The games provide an opportunity for athletes from all over the country to travel to Seattle, Wash., to embrace the Olympic spirit, display their talents and abilities, and to compete. As an important part of the USA Games, the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg for Special Olympics heightens awareness and takes the message of Special Olympics to every corner of Washington State. Law Enforcement officials and Special Olympics athletes, unified together as part of the final leg team, serving as true Guardians of the Flame to promote the powerful messages of inclusion and acceptance.

“Our first day was travel and arrival day where we met all the other teams and athletes, were roomed in dorms at Willamette University outside Spokane,” Giannelli recalls. “Teammates were weary from delayed flights, long travel and plane changes but once together as a group their excitement and energy for the task before us was evident. Hamburgers and hotdogs were served in the cafeteria and we all spent the evening getting to know our teammates and picking up our uniforms for the week.”

Lacing up their running shoes, Giannelli and the rest of the team ran through multiple cities during the final leg of the USA Games torch run.

“It was an early start on day two as our team ran into and out of the following cities, chanting and spreading awareness of inclusion for athletes with intellectual disabilities. Athletes and law enforcement alike gave speeches and heard remarks from various dignitaries, mayors, chiefs of police, the surgeon general and the like. The first day of running consisted of Spokane, Ephrata, Wenatchee and Leavenworth. Late in the evening, we arrived in Seattle and settled into our dorm rooms at Seattle University,” she said. “The following day again we were up early and en route by 6 a.m. We then traveled to Liberty Lakes, Fort Lewis McCord, La May Car Museum, Federal Way, Everett, (where I was honored to speak to the city and share my story of Special Olympics), Taliap and then the Funko store.”

The team rested and again hit the streets.

“The next day consisted of Pikes Place, Seattle Center, The Harbor Police and a ride across the water on the Harbor Police boats. It would be safe to say we had more than a little fun shooting the fire hoses at each other’s boats. Then off to Brooks World Headquarters, and a run up to the famous Troll Avenue, followed by the cities of Redmond, Belleview and then the Museum of flight,” she said. “The next day we traveled and by this I mean ran to Starbucks Reserve Headquarters, Century Link Field where we were part of the opening ceremonies and national anthem for the Seattle Sounders Football Club, as in soccer. This consisted of a more than few hours of rehearsal! Then we were off to Husky Stadium for rehearsal of the opening ceremonies for the USA World Games.”

Giannelli said she was honored to represent Northern California.

“This was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. Wow, just wow. The law enforcement escorted their delegates onto the field and saluted the torch as it was carried in by our very own athlete Ernie Roundtree.  After the games, the tears of joy and pride, the hugs. Off we went to Brooks HQ who hosted an amazing dinner. Tim Shriver (chairman of Special Olympics International) thanked us all. This was now getting to be more than my brain could handle. Each location listed we met amazing individuals, families and Special Olympic athletes. We were honored and showered with mementos from their town and treated like stars by the media and locals every step of the way.”

It was a growth-filled experience, Giannelli said.

“The real rock stars are the athletes. I have made friends for life and have a much bigger family now,” she said. “My faith in God and in human kindness has reached a new level. My life has been forever changed by this event.”