Local law enforcement helps fan competitive flames for Special Olympians

Illinois State Trooper Mike Kindhart, left, shares a laugh with Special Olympics athlete Wes Holtschlag as the two enjoy lunch together Tuesday afternoon at Transitions of Western Illinois.(H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Jun. 10, 2014 6:18 pm Updated: Jun. 24, 2014 8:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Jessica Steinkamp can't wait for the weekend.

The 30-year-old Quincyan is one of nearly three dozen Special Olympics athletes who will compete this weekend at the annual state Summer Games at Illinois State University in Normal and Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.

"I like having fun and just get to be myself," said Steinkamp, who will participate in track and the softball throw.

Steinkamp was part of a group of athletes who lunched with members of local law enforcement on Tuesday at Transitions in Quincy. The officers had just taken part in the annual Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. A group of eight runners, representing both the Quincy Police Department and the Illinois State Police, took off from Transitions early Tuesday morning. The group combined to run 22.5 miles to the Hancock County line where a group of officers from that area picked up the run. The torch eventually will reach the Bloomington-Normal area for the start of the games on Friday.

Local Special Olympics organizers are happy to have the backing of law enforcement officers.

"They're very dedicated, especially when you consider that it's been pouring down rain this morning," said Adrienne Arment, the athletics director for Special Olympics in Adams County. "We're really grateful for their commitment to our area and their involvement. They help with our spring games. Some of them actually go to Bloomington with us. They're really active."

The group was just one among many formed for the run by about 3,000 officers representing every branch of law enforcement across the state. The torches, which are dubbed "Flames of Hope," will travel nearly 1,500 miles and be carried on 23 routes to their final destination. Since its inception in 1986, the run has raised more than $31 million statewide. Last year's Torch Run set a new record as more than $3.3 million was raised throughout the state.

"The Torch Run is what provides the money for our athletes to participate for free," Arment said. "They don't have to pay for any food, any lodging or anything while they're at the events. It's all free to them."

There are 85 Special Olympics athletes in Adams County. The group heading to state will include 34 athletes. Athletes will participate in soccer, track and bocce.

Josh Allen, 27, of Quincy, said he was looking forward to playing goalie on one of the soccer teams. Steve Beaston, 55, of Quincy, is hoping to add to his medal collection.

"I have a lot of medals at home," said Beaston, who participates in track.

One member of the group, Grace Stevens of Quincy, will participate in bocce at the national games this weekend in New Jersey.

"(The state meet) will be a really fun three days," Arment said. "They get to participate in the opening ceremonies on Friday. I think the biggest activity of the weekend and one that they love is the dance they have on Saturday night at the football field at Illinois State. It's a big deal for them."