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Special Olympics Oregon games are off, but supporters carry the torch in Lane County

Register-Guard - 7/14/2018

July 13--There may be no cauldron to ignite this year, but three dozen local police and Navy Reserve officers still braved the humidity on Friday morning to run in support of Special Olympics Oregon.

The 18-mile run from the Springfield Justice Center to Junction City is just one leg of Oregon law enforcement's Torch Run event. The unlit Olympic torch moves through 30 counties every year in order to raise awareness about the Special Olympics, with an estimated 1,500 officers taking part.

The 32-year-old event took place in spite of Special Olympics Oregon canceling both its summer and fall state games in recent weeks, due to financial problems. The summer games were scrapped less than an month before they were scheduled to take place at Oregon State University, causing consternation among some supporters.

The nonprofit organization said it decided to cancel those showcase events in order to stabilize its finances and ensure it could continue to run its year-round sports training activities and smaller competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Special Olympics Oregon similarly canceled its big events for several years during the Great Recession.

But several events designed to help raise awareness and money for the nonprofit are continuing as normal, including the law enforcement Torch Run.

On Friday, Amanda Jensen, her husband, John, who is a Eugene police officer, and her three young sons jogged a stretch from Eugene police headquarters on Country Club Road to the Valley River Center.

Jensen said her husband has run in the event for the past four years, motivated in part by their youngest son, Thomas, who was born with Down syndrome. This year, the whole family joined in.

"It's all about coming together for these types of events," she said.

Jensen described Thomas, who happily rode along in a bike trailer, as a "future Olympian." He loves swimming, throwing and catching, and wrestling with his older brothers, she said.

"It's kind of a bummer that (the Summer Special Olympics) aren't happening," she said. "I sure hope those types of events are around when he's old enough to take part."

Law enforcement agencies raise significant funds for Special Olympics Oregon through the torch run and other events. Statewide, the events brought over $600,000 for the nonprofit in 2016, the last year for which the data is available, according to Tiffany Monroe with the Springfield Police Department.

Special Olympics Oregon CEO Britt Carlson Oase was unavailable on Friday to provide more information about their current financial situation or to discuss the immediate future.

After the initial cancellation announcement last month, Carlson Oase wrote in a blog post that the organization "had heard the frustration and disappointment" of "parents, athletes, volunteers and families."

Chad Carter, a spokesman for the organization, wrote in an email that Carlson Oase on Friday "was meeting with prospective donors and organizations that could provide a cash infusion."

"Britt has been traveling all over the state talking with those who could help us build toward a more sustainable long-term future," Carter added.

"Those meetings have been productive and are continuing daily," he wrote, though he noted that Carlson Oase "has stressed that the turnaround is a process that will take time."

The Portland Business Journal has reported that Special Olympics Oregon lost $325,000 on $4.5 million in revenue in 2016, the most recent annual report made public.

Carlson Oase took over as CEO of the organization on June 1.


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