A few months back I told you about an exciting adventure I was going on to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. I had been selected, along with my good friend retired San Luis Obispo Police Lieutenant Bill Proll, by Special Olympics International to serve as part of the Final Leg team. We were Guardians of the Flame as we ran the “Flame of Hope” throughout the United Arab Emirates in March, leading up to the start of the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.
It was not an official trip. It was not a business trip. Nor was it a personal trip. It was quite honestly, the trip of a lifetime.
There were a couple of firsts for me. I had never traveled to Abu Dhabi before. I had never attended a Special Olympics World Games before. And I had never met a more friendly and welcoming nation of people.
On February 27th, Bill and I traveled to Abu Dhabi. I was honored and humbled to have been selected as the law enforcement runner for the Southern California region. There were ten teams of 10. Each team consisted of 9 law enforcement officers from all over the world and one athlete.
We ran for two weeks and visited all seven Emirates. It culminated in the delivery of the torch to the opening ceremonies at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. The athletes, my fellow torch runners and the people of the United Arab Emirates were incredible! I met so many people, got a chance to see so many unique places and was inspired by so many athletes.
I was told recently by a friend, that they thought it was nice that I support Special Olympics. To be honest, the athletes do way more for me than I do for them. They really remind me every day about things like unconditional love, how to overcome challenges, how to support others around you and how to never give up. We forget about these lessons from time to time, but these athletes never do.
A couple of side notes about the trip. The number one question people asked me about was the weather. Was it hot, they asked? We were expecting warm temperatures. Well, I must admit, it was actually very pleasant. It was especially good weather to run with the torch. Another question was regarding the food. I can honestly say the food was incredible. We ate well, so well, in fact, I thought I might be leaving there heavier than when I arrived. And finally, a question about the cultural differences between our two countries. Islam is the official religion in the United Arab Emirates. I wasn’t sure how we would be viewed by our host country. But that was never a concern. The people in the United Arab Emirates welcomed us with open arms. Friendly, warm and engaging. I truly feel we made a connection with people halfway around the world.
I could not have made this trip without the support of all the people that donated on my website, attended our fundraising event, supplied food and wine and offered general support. Each runner was asked to raise money for Special Olympics and I’m proud to say, I was the largest fundraiser, with approximately $42,000 raised. All of the money goes to Special Olympics. As I mentioned before, it was the trip of a lifetime. I made many friends from all over the world. But it is the memory of the athletes I will remember most. Living the motto of the Special Olympics to the fullest, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt.”