The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) is responsible for the conservation of the state’s fish and wildlife resources through its research initiatives and the enforcement of fishing, hunting, trapping and boating laws. At the forefront of the WRC is Colonel Jon Evans, an active leader in the North Carolina Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics ® (NC LETR).
Since 1996, Evans has worked with the WRC in various capacities, assuming the role of colonel in 2014. His introduction to the NC LETR took place in 1994, while with the Raleigh Police Department. This introduction would escalate to a career-long focus on promoting NC LETR activities within his own agency.
“A lot of our officers would participate with other departments and once I became the colonel, I thought, well, I’m a member and now I’m the chief of a great law enforcement agency and why don’t we just have our own Torch Run,” said Evans. “We started it by hosting a run in Orange County, in Hillsborough, which is almost in the center of North Carolina, and we made it available for people to use community service leave and travel from across the state.”
In this effort, which took place two consecutive years, the WRC partnered with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the Hillsborough Police Department, joining more than 100 law enforcement officers in raising money for Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC). Though Evans speaks highly of the camaraderie among officers, he ensures that the focus is always on the athletes.
“It’s a wonderful cause,” remarked Evans. “The interaction with the athletes will literally change your life and the officers that are associated with it, for the better, for the positive. When you get involved, you will work to become more involved. The camaraderie is awesome.”
In particular, there is one moment that stands above the rest for Evans in his time working with Special Olympics. On May 27, more than 100 law enforcement officers united in the culmination of the 2021 Carry the Flame Torch Run for the Final Leg and the lighting of the cauldron of the steps of the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh. Evans and Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro athlete Dustin Edmondson were one of two pairs selected to light the cauldron in this momentous occasion, also attended by Governor Roy Cooper.
“It was probably my most memorable moment with an athlete,” remembered Evans.
For every encounter Evans shares with an athlete, he takes the opportunity to grow and learn from their life experiences. In 2020, Evans participated in the Over The Edge fundraising event, rappelling 30 stories from the Wells Fargo Capitol Center in Raleigh in support of SONC. Channeling strength, that he so admires in Special Olympics athletes, Evans conquered his fears.
“But I did think about how I felt for a long time coming down the building and how uncomfortable it was and scary and how athletes must feel when they have to step up and try something new,” said Evans. “They are an incredible group of people and I’m proud to know them and I enjoy spending time with them and I look forward to spending more time with them.”
Looking to the future, Evans is working to increase participation among officers, encouraging them to come up with new ideas for fundraising initiatives. With 210 officers currently involved through the WRC, Evans notes that each officer is impacted in one way or another by their participation.
“I think what I did not expect was what I have learned from the athletes myself that I can apply to my personal life,” said Evans. “That is the willingness to get outside of our comfort zone in any situation, because these athletes are always having to push themselves outside of their comfort zone and they do it willingly. Watching them, I would say, has helped me be brave at times too, maybe when I didn’t want to be.”
Fostering camaraderie among officers and among officers and athletes, Evans is assured each interaction is another opportunity for growth.