Lovell Police Officer Matt Koritnik fell in love with the Special Olympics and the organization’s athletes about seven years ago, and now the longtime Wyoming organizer and volunteer is to be honored as one of an elite group of individuals carrying the torch for the USA Games this summer in Seattle.
Koritnik is one of a few volunteers who will serve as “Guardians of the Flame” and escort the Special Olympics Flame of Hope on a journey across Washington state for the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) before the USA Games begin in July.
Since the first Special Olympics USA games in 2006, members of law enforcement agencies and Special Olympics athletes from across the country have carried the Flame of Hope in the LETR to kick off the national competition.
From June 27 through July 1, the LETR Final Leg team will conduct multiple runs and ceremonies in communities across Washington to raise awareness for Special Olympics and generate excitement for the 2018 USA Games. The 2018 LETR Final Leg culminates on July 1, when the team escorts the Flame of Hope into the opening ceremony at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium, the organization announced in a press release.
Koritnik will be a team leader for the Final Leg and will be joined by officers from across the country. Also representing Wyoming on the Final Leg team will be Officer Julie Wickett of the Glenrock Police Dept. and Chief Ron Cassalenda of the Douglas PD.
The USA Games are held every four years and were last held in New Jersey in 2014.
Koritnik first became involved in Special Olympics as a basketball official in Laramie for the Wyoming Special Olympics Summer Games in 2010 while he was a college student at the University of Wyoming. He has been active ever since.
“I was inspired by the athletes,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “Their dedication makes me want to be dedicated to supporting them.”
After earning his degree in criminal justice in 2011, Koritnik was hired by then Chief Nick Lewis as an officer with the Lovell Police Dept. He later worked for the Lander PD, then returned to Lovell.
While attending the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy in Douglas, he learned about the Law Enforcement Torch Run and that the Wyoming LETR was seeking a regional coordinator for Northwest Wyoming. He volunteered for the position and joined the LETR Wyoming Council in 2012. He was a team member of the 2014 USA Games Final Leg in New Jersey in 2014 and in 2016 was elected as the torch run state director for Wyoming Special Olympics.
Koritnik said he is constantly looking for ways to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics, noting that the torch run raises around $150,000 annually for the organization.
“My goal is $500,000,” he said, or around one dollar for every Wyoming resident.
He noted that the Special Olympics athlete’s oath is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
“It’s hard not to be a fan of Special Olympics when you attend an event,” he said. “Win or lose, the athletes compete with such courage. It’s inspiring for me.”
Koritnik has for several years organized Law Enforcement Torch Run events in North Big Horn County including the Jackalope Jump in March, the Strikes for Special Olympics bowling event in the fall and the LETR relay across the state in the first week of May, including the Cody to Laramie leg of the event.
He said about 1,500 athletes compete in the summer and winter games for Special Olympics in Wyoming. The summer games take place every May in Laramie, and the winter games are in Jackson in February of each year.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Koritnik said of his love for Special Olympics. “My favorite part is presenting medals to the athletes. There are lots of hugs and high-fives. I have a passion to ensure all athletes are included and accepted. The torch run is the perfect opportunity to ensure that happens.”
The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics is the organization’s largest grassroots fundraiser and public awareness vehicle. In 2016, law enforcement volunteers raised $56.6 million for Special Olympics programs around the world and have raised more than $675 million since the inception of the LETR in 1981, according to the Special Olympics release.
By David Peck