A West Hawaii police officer will be representing Hawaii in the 2022 Special Olympics World Games Torch Run in Russia, one of only 95 law enforcement officers around the world to be selected to carry the torch.
Kuilee Dela Cruz has been involved in Special Olympics West Hawaii for the past eight years, coaching basketball and soccer as well as participating in annual fundraisers such as Cop on Top and the Troy Barboza Law Enforcement Torch Run.
“When I got into Kona community policing, now retired Officer (William) Vickery pulled me into Special Olympics and I am still involved in it and love it,” he said. “Our athletes are so talented and deserve the opportunity to play sports and make friends. I am always telling my fellow officers to come out and get to know our athletes. I feel so appreciated when I’m off-duty and our athletes recognize me. I enjoy having conversations with them and getting to know them.”
But with the onset of COVID, there have been no games or fundraisers and Dela Cruz misses the interaction with the athletes.
“They have so much fun. I miss seeing them,” he said.
Although local Special Olympics events and competitions were held around the world every day pre-COVID, the World Games showcase the skills and accomplishments of people with intellectual disabilities on a global stage. The World Games feature more than a week of competitions involving thousands of athletes. Through media coverage of the games, the stories and achievements of children and adults with intellectual disabilities are made known to millions of people worldwide.
Special Olympics World Games take place every two years and alternate between summer and winter games, a schedule similar to the Olympics and Paralympics. Attracting as many as 350,000 volunteers and coaches, plus several thousands of athletes, these World Games can be the world’s largest sporting event of the year.
Dela Cruz was a runner-up to carry the torch for the Summer Games in Abu Dhabi and was subsequently selected for the Winter Games being held next January in Kazan, Russia.
“When I first found out I was selected I was mind-blown. I’m going to be representing Hawaii, but more importantly West Hawaii,” he said.
Kazan is used to hosting large sporting events, known as the “Sports capital of Russia,” having held the 2013 Summer Universiade games and 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“We land in Moscow and the torch is carried from there to Kazan. There are 10 teams. Ninety-five law enforcement officers from around the world were selected to run the torch,” explained Dela Cruz. “Each team is made up of 10 people, including one athlete. Each team takes turns running with the torch.”
Dela Cruz and his team will be carrying the torch for the final leg of its journey. The team is made up of officers from Ireland, Poland, the United States and other countries.
To spread the aloha spirit around the world, he is looking to put together care packages for his team members with items from the Big Island. Anyone wishing to contribute items for his team’s care packages can drop off donations to the Kona or Waimea police stations.
“We will speaking at various locations along the way, telling people about where we are from,” he said.
After making the trek from Moscow to Kazan, Dela Cruz will also partake in the “polar plunge” in a local lake.
Although a little worried about a local boy jumping into the icy waters, he is determined to make the plunge.
“It’s for the athletes, so I got to do it,” he mused.
He was also told to be prepared for the run because the estimated temperature for that time of year will be about 6 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 15 degrees Celsius.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” he chuckled. “But they are supplying us with special thermal insulated gear.”
Special Olympics athletes can compete in 32 Olympic-style summer or winter sports. The athletes are adults and children with intellectual disabilities who can range from gifted, world-class competitors to average athletes to those with limited physical ability. It’s a fundamental rule of Special Olympics competitions that athletes are matched up according to their ability and age. This “divisioning” process is an effort to make every competition fair, competitive and exciting for athletes as well as fans.
Dela Cruz wants to make his trip to the World Games a way to gather donations for the athletes in a time that fundraising has been curtailed, particularly having been unable to hold the annual Cop on Top event that typically raises $30,000 for West Hawaii. He has set up a donation page to raise money for our local athletes.
“The state (Special Olympics Hawaii’s office in Honolulu) pays for expenses related to the trip,” he explained. “The donation page is to give it back.”
He said the money spent on covering expenses for his trip is money that otherwise would go to the athletes.
“I don’t want to take money from the athletes. This is to give back and more. The state will give anything over the expense to our West Hawaii Special Olympics athletes, which will be good because we haven’t been able to do fundraising.”
To donate visit:give.classy.org\kuileefundraiser