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Deputy Goes Above and Beyond for Special Olympics Athletes

11/16/2016
9:33 AM
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Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian McKnight had no idea how much his life would change when he accepted an invitation in 1996 to participate in a charity run benefitting the Special Olympics.

It was his sister, a Littleton police dispatcher, who asked him to sign up for the Law Enforcement Torch Run. McKnight admits he didn’t know a lot about the run or what it did, but he soon realized the monumental impact the event had on athletes taking part in the Special Olympics.

Twenty years later, McKnight is being lauded for his tireless efforts to improve the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In September, he received the John Carion Unsung Hero Award, an international honor bestowed each year to three officers who contribute to the Torch Run and Special Olympics in “spirit, dedication and enthusiasm in an effective and unheralded fashion,” according to the Law Enforcement Torch Run website.

McKnight instantly made friends at the 1996 charity run, an event that had a profound effect on him personally. The result was an intense motivation to do more.

“By the time it was over and after meeting the Special Olympic athletes and seeing the influence the officers had on their life, I said, ‘man, I’ve got to keep doing this,’” he said.

A short time later, a Special Olympics athlete who attended the school where McKnight served as a school resource officer solidified his commitment to the cause.

“She brought her medals to school and talked about what she got to do,” McKnight said. “She talked to everyone about the concept of inclusion and being part of something big.”

The confidence the games build in the athletes is noticeable — “you realize the difference” it makes in their lives, McKnight said. He became the Torch Run coordinator for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office before moving up to regional coordinator and then president of the state chapter for the fundraising platform for the Special Olympics. For the last four years, McKnight has served as past president, whose role is that of vice president.

McKnight’s work has caught the attention of his colleagues, including ACSO Bureau Chief Glenn Thompson.

“Brian’s dedication to making the community a better place is immeasurable,” Thompson said. “Whether he is coordinating and participating in a Special Olympics event, teaching his ‘Flying High Without Alcohol or Drugs’ program, mentoring our youth as an advisor with the law enforcement explorer program, or teaching at the Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Academy, Brian’s commitment to serving others is exemplary.”

Active participation was essential to McKnight seeing the real impact of the funds raised by the Torch Run. He has recruited 55 deputies from the sheriff’s office to experience the same excitement while raising money for a good cause.

“Participating alongside them — it’s the biggest part of this. If you just do fundraising, you don’t get to see the effect it has on their lives and their families,” he said. “When you’re there at the games, you get an indication of what it does for them and it makes me feel like my struggles aren’t that tough.”

When he became president of the Colorado Law Enforcement Torch Run in 2012, the annual statewide fundraising total was $250,000. Last year, that number climbed to $810,000, and McKnight says the goal is $1 million. The Torch Run, which is held in multiple cities each year, raised around $55 million worldwide last year.

The ACSO’s fundraising efforts don’t end at the finish line of the Torch Run. McKnight helps organize Colorado’s six different annual Polar Plunges, in which police officers jump into icy water in exchange for donations to the Special Olympics. McKnight has been known to wear costumes during the plunges, a move designed to get even more money coming in. The deputies also take part in head-shaving events to raise money for cancer research, and in October they became waiters for a day by taking part in the annual Tip-a-Cop event at Red Robin at Arapahoe Road and Yosemite Street.

The money raised from all of the events ensures that athletes can participate in the Special Olympics in Grand Junction without any financial obligations. Given all the turbulence that comes with being a law enforcement officer, raising funds for Special Olympics athletes offers a nice break.

“It’s a great way to be in a positive situation when a lot of our job isn’t that positive,” McKnight says.

To learn more about the Torch Run or Polar Plunge, contact McKnight at bmcknight@arapahoegov.com.

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