Captain Thurman Whisnant of the Hickory Police Department in Hickory, North Carolina describes his experience participating during the 2013 Torch Run Final Leg in Republic of Korea. The Final Leg was held in conjunction to the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games.
I can’t say enough amazing things about my experience as a Torch Run Final Leg runner! From the new culture to the new friends, I have a lot of great memories from my trip.
I was blown away by just how friendly everyone was to us as a group. I quickly felt accepted and appreciated by the Korean people. The people lined the streets as we ran. They were waving flags with the Special Olympics logo on them. And when I say people, I mean LOTS of people. The Torch coming through their city was a big deal and we were treated like rock stars. The Korean National Police Officers assigned to us were great as well. I got to know the two who were assigned to our bus really well and am already keeping in touch with them via Facebook. We all formed friendships so quickly; by mid week, the jokes were going back and forth between us and our Korean friends just like what happens back home at our local police departments.
I also created long lasting friendships with the athletes who were part of our group. My roommate, Andy (a Special Olympics Washington athlete), and I formed a very strong bond during the two weeks. I loved watching him go from being shy and introverted to completely confident in his public speaking abilities. Since that time, Andy has sent me a video thanking me for being his roommate and we’ve been talking frequently. Everyone on our bus got really close and we’ve been talking daily. It’s amazing to see just how quickly these life-long friendships formed.
We saw so many memorable things during our trip and each of our four daily stops had something unique about it. One of my favorites was a city on the Northwest coast of the Republic of Korea called Paju. It’s the closest place anyone can get to the North Korean border. You can actually see the DMZ and there are a lot of memorials and tributes to the individuals who served in the Korean War. That was special to me because my father served in the Air Force during that time. Another favorite of mine (and almost everyone on the trip) was a city named Hwacheon. We ran the Torch in to the city and down some steps made of ice on to a frozen lake where they had built a stage for us. They had constructed a partial castle out of ice blocks that was behind our stage. There were ice skaters performing for us and hundreds of people there to welcome us. They also had an ice fishing tournament there, sledding and even had a go cart track on the ice. It was such a cool experience, literally!
I came home completely re-energized about my role with the Torch Run. Since I’ve been back, I’ve spoken to at least four new and young officers just starting their career about what an opportunity they have to make a difference. I firmly believe no one remembers an officer at the end of his career for the number of arrests they make or how many cases he solves, but for the opportunities he takes to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Being involved with the Torch Run is the perfect way to do that and I could not be more grateful that I was given the opportunity to be a part of it at the international level.
See photos from Captain Whisnant’s trip here.