Twenty-five years ago, Officer Thomas Day met Evan Miller, now a Special Olympics Forsyth County athlete, in the halls of Clemmons Elementary School in Winston-Salem, NC. In May 2021, they reunited for the first time since then.
“As far as my background, I’ve been a lifelong resident of Winston-Salem. I’ve been here my whole life. My family has been here for over 100 years, so I certainly love my city. I went to school in this area, it’s where I met Evan,” said Day.
Both fifth grade students at the time, Day and Miller became fast friends. As a new student at the school, Day recalled Miller’s kindness to him in the wake of adjusting to a new environment. Upon completion of elementary school, the two would not reunite until 2021 at the Special Olympics Carry the Flame Torch Run Relay.
Launching from five starting points across North Carolina, the Flame of Hope travelled a total of 2,000 miles to the North Carolina State Capitol building in Raleigh. From May 10-26, officers joined Special Olympics athletes in the largest awareness campaign for the Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) for Special Olympics. As one of the five legs passed through Winston-Salem, Day and Miller reunited again, more than two decades later.
“When I met him, we were in fifth grade together and I hadn’t seen him in middle school or high school and beyond,” said Day. “I always wondered whatever happened to him, but I walked up and I just couldn’t believe it.”
Day joined the Winston-Salem Police Department in 2009 as a police officer and has served in the patrol division, recruiting unit and training division. Now an acting supervisor over the community resources unit, his involvement with the NC LETR led him straight back to his days at Clemmons Elementary School. Years later, Day recalls the kindness Miller demonstrated toward him as the new kid in school.
“In that timeframe, it was certainly an awkward time for me,” remembered Day. “My parents had just gotten remarried, so I had a whole new family, a whole new house and a whole new school. Everything was kind of uprooted. Here I come, the new kid at the school in fifth grade, so you get picked on a little bit. But Evan, he was never going to pick on me.”
Carrying the torch, Miller ran the 3.5 miles of the relay leg alongside his childhood friend, not missing a beat since their last meeting in elementary school. In the years between, Miller joined Special Olympics Forsyth County to train and compete in tennis, golf, softball and basketball. Though Miller was physically prepared for running in the relay, he was overwhelmed, emotionally, in reuniting unexpectantly with Day.
When asked about his experience reuniting with Day, Miller answered, “It was special.” About the event, he added, “I got to hold the whole torch. There were police officers, lots of people, we got to be outside.”
From a young age, Day recognized the importance of creating inclusive spaces for individuals like Miller. Now in a position to influence others to join the Special Olympics movement toward inclusion, meeting with Miller again brought his journey back full circle.
“I spent time with him because I didn’t see him as, you know, really as someone I couldn’t hang out with,” said Day. “He was always so friendly to me, I was always friendly to him. I think part of the reason he maybe stands out so much is because, I think, he was probably the first person with an intellectual disability that I ever met. He’s just Evan.”
Echoing a shared sentiment of respect, Miller noted, “I like that he’s a police officer.” In the miles they ran together, both from very different walks of life, they could not have been more in sync.
“It’s been amazing to see these athletes, the determination, the willpower that they have,” said Day. “They’re not going to let anything slow them down. Keep up the good work. Evan, I think you could outrun me any day of the week.”
Day intends on making an appearance to see Miller train and compete firsthand in the near future. Miller responded, “Thank you, Thomas. I hope to see you too.”