Officer John Bassi had the honor and opportunity to carry the torch into Boston University during Special Olympics Massachusetts’ opening ceremony last June at summer games. It was a highlight for Bassi, who’s been involved with the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run program for three years, but the 133-mile drive from Pittsfield Police Department in the Berkshires to Boston that summer was only the first step in a much longer journey, one that eventually would take Bassi halfway around the globe.
Bassi was chosen to represent Special Olympics Massachusetts – joining a coalition of 95 other law enforcement personnel and 10 Special Olympics athletes, from the United States and 19 other countries – in carrying the torch throughout South Korea, on their way to PyeongChang, the site of the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) program was started in 1981 by Wichita, Kansas Police Chief Richard LaMunyon to increase awareness of Special Olympics. Since that time, the partnership between law enforcement agencies and Special Olympics has grown tremendously, with police and other first responders becoming a mainstay at Special Olympics torch lighting ceremonies and events worldwide. Since its inception, the program has raised over $410 million for Special Olympics.
“I was blown away. I was very honored to be chosen to go. It’s a big deal for me, only being in this program for a short period of time,” said Bassi reflecting on the opportunity to represent Special Olympics and Massachusetts law enforcement on the world stage.
The journey for Bassi truly started with his nine-year-old son Jake, who is a Special Olympics athlete competing for the past three years in bowling, equestrian, soccer and track and field.
“It’s done amazing things for Jake,” said Bassi in regards to his son’s involvement with Special Olympics Massachusetts. “It’s definitely increased his socialization skills. It’s just given him so many opportunities he probably would have never gotten.”
There’s arguably greater reverence in Bassi’s voice when speaking about representing his son in South Korea. “I’m going to try and get a button made up with his face on it, so when I’m running I can be reminded of him,” said Bassi.
Jake will also be featured prominently on Bassi’s custom sneakers, donated by New Balance. The black and grey running shoes are adorned with the letters ‘LETR’ on one side and ‘JTB’ on the other, standing for Jake Thomas Bassi.
The shoes will carry Bassi on his team’s 33.9-mile torch route, with 18 stop-offs for public speaking engagements, from January 23rd through the 29th for the official torch lighting ceremony at the start of the games, which run from January 29th to February 5th; feature 3,300 athletes and coaches, representing 112 countries; with 15,000 family, friends, volunteers and spectators in attendance; and one very proud father.