The Special Olympics Flame of Hope is making its way through the Central Coast en route to the Southern California Summer Games.
The City of San Luis Obispo is one of the host cities during the northern leg of the flame’s journey.
The Blankenburg family started the San Luis Obispo County chapter of Special Olympics in 1969, just one year after the entire Special Olympics organization first started.
Their son, Rick, was born in a military hospital in Germany. Doctors told the family to leave him there because he had special needs, but they refused and took him home.
“We didn’t start Special Olympics for the recognition. We started it because we felt there was a need, and we have seen how it’s benefited all the athletes, including Rick and a bunch of our friends and their family members,” said Cindy Blankenburg, Rick’s sister. “We’ve seen it help the community. There’s more awareness. There’s more tolerance because it’s been at the schools through the years.”
Rick has participated in all 50 years of the Special Olympics games since the chapter came to be.
“Life would be totally different if we didn’t have Special Olympics. Rick works in the community, he rides his bike, he does gymnastics, he waterskis. He does all these things, and without Special Olympics, we probably wouldn’t have encouraged him to do those things,” said Cindy. “Because the thinking at the time was ‘people with special needs can’t do all of these things because they have a disability.’ Well, we’ve all proven them wrong. They can do all these things, and it’s really touching to me.”
Special Olympics volunteers, as well as police officers and sheriff’s deputies, held a ceremony Monday evening to commemorate the flame’s special mission. It was all part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.
Monday was the first time that all of San Luis Obispo County’s officers running in the torch run ran together. Runners traveled from the Veterans Center and down Monterey Street. The run ended at Mission Plaza where a short ceremony was held.
Among the law enforcement agencies participating were the Arroyo Grande Police Department, Atascadero Police Department, Cal Poly University Police Department, California Men’s Colony, CHP, California State Parks, Camp San Luis Obispo, Cuesta College Police Department, DSH – Atascadero, DSH- OPS Academy, the FBI, Grover Beach Police Department, Morro Bay Police Department, Paso Robles Police Department, Pismo Beach Police Department, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, San Luis Obispo Police Department, San Luis Obispo County Probation Department, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, and United States Coast Guard.
The torch is a symbol to raise awareness and money for Special Olympics.
The Summer Games will be held at CSU Long Beach this weekend.
More than 1,100 athletes are expected to attend and compete for the gold, silver and bronze medals.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson spearheaded the program.
“It’s a great organization. Our lives would be totally different if we weren’t involved in Special Olympics. We were talking the other day how it has shaped our lives and shaped who we are,” said Cindy.
The games are free and open to the public to support the athletes.