A West Hawaii police officer will represent the state in the 2022 Special Olympics World Games Torch Run in Russia, one of only 95 law enforcement officers from 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,” Dela Cruz 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 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.
The World Games showcase the skills and accomplishments of people with intellectual disabilities on a global stage. The 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.
The 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 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 subsequently selected for the winter games 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.
Dela Cruz said torch will be carried from Moscow to Kazan.
“There are 10 teams,” he said. “… 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 carry the torch for its final leg. The team is made up of officers from Ireland, Poland, the United States and other countries.
“We will be speaking at various locations along the way, telling people about where we are from,” he said.
To spread the aloha spirit around the world, Dela Cruz is looking to put together care packages for his team members with items from the Big Island. Anyone wanting to contribute can drop off donations at the Kona or Waimea police stations.
After making the trek from Moscow to Kazan, Dela Cruz will also participate in the “polar plunge” in a local lake. Although a little worried about 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.
Dela Cruz was also told to be prepared for the run because the estimated temperature for that time of year will be about 6 degrees.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” he chuckled. “But they are supplying us with special thermal insulated gear.”
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 have the annual Cop on Top event that typically raises $30,000 for West Hawaii. He set up a donation page to raise money for the athletes.
“The (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,” Dela Cruz said. “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.orgkuileefundraiser.
Email Laura Ruminski at firstname.lastname@example.org.