Vail Daily column: Support the torch run for Special Olympics | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Support the torch run for Special Olympics

Sheriff James Van Beek
My View

On May 21, the Special Olympics Flame of Hope will pass through Eagle County, followed by dozens of law enforcement officers (the Guardians of the Flame), supported by community members and joined by Special Olympics athletes to raise awareness and funding for the upcoming games this summer in Grand Junction.

The Eagle County Sheriff's Office hosts the event in partnership with neighboring public-safety agencies, including Eagle County Sheriff's Office, Eagle Police Department, Avon Police Department, Vail Police Department, Colorado State Patrol 4C, Gypsum Fire Protection District, Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, Eagle River Fire Protection District, Vail Fire and Emergency Services and the Eagle County Paramedic Services.

The Special Olympics, founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was created to identify intellectual differences and expand human potential in those who live with brain issues that affect development and function. Medical research has improved our understanding of the many ways people think and process information and how the unique attributes of those with intellectual differences can contribute greatly to our society. A weakness in one area often translates to strength in another.

The Special Olympics works to change perceptions by providing a venue for competition that increases the health of participants and incorporates leadership skills necessary for success in life.

What do you do when your doctor says your adorable toddler will never be like other children? That their daily interactions and physical abilities will be forever limited? When just achieving "normal" will be a struggle?

What about an injury sustained in a car wreck or while serving in the military? It alters your future and challenges your sense of self-worth and independence. How do you move forward? The Special Olympics Organization is there to help you raise the bar of expectations.

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Approximately 6.5 million people in the United States have an intellectual disability. It affects cognitive development and causes difficulties in communications and limitations to self-care. People with intellectual disabilities — caused by birth defects, injury, disease, toxic exposure, malnutrition or other issues in brain development and function — develop more slowly or differently, resulting in additional challenges to education and work.

Some of the most common intellectual disability issues include:

• Down Syndrome, resulting from an extra copy of Chromosome 21, causing mild to moderate intellectual disability with weak muscle tone and distinctive physical features: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 6,000 babies born in the United States each year with Down syndrome.

• Fragile X, affecting communication skills, physical appearance and sensitivity to noise and light: It is caused by a mutation in the Fragile-x Mental Retardation gene. About 1 in 4,000 males and 1 in 8,000 females have Fragile X Syndrome.

• Autism Spectrum Disorder, a complex neurological and developmental disorder, affecting learning and communications: Symptoms include social and repetitive behaviors and vary by person, which is why it is known as a spectrum disorder. About 1 in 68 children in the United States is on the spectrum. It is about 4.5 times more common among boys than girls.

• Head injuries, strokes, certain viral or other infections: Diseases such as whooping cough, the measles or meningitis, as well as poisons such as lead or mercury, can cause intellectual disabilities.

Nothing is more precious to our community than the unique differences of its residents. We flourish because of those differences. Every person is valued, and those facing particularly difficult challenges need our support and encouragement. We are honored to participate each year in the Special Olympics Torch Run.

We begin at 8 a.m. Sunday, May 21, at both Eagle Valley High School and at the Vail Police Department, meeting at Miller Ranch Road and U.S. Highway 6 at 11 a.m. and then joining the local Special Olympics athletes on toward Freedom Park for a finale event with ice cream and root beer.

We encourage participants of all ages and abilities to join us, as an opportunity to show some of our community's most vulnerable, yet inspiring members, that they have our full support and value their unique contributions to our lives in Eagle County. The Special Olympics organization has inspired the lives of nearly 5 million athletes in 169 countries. Participation requires a skill set that pushes the limits of all that we think is possible, and once completed, that success remains as an inspiration for everything else in life. Let's join together, to make dreams come true, for our neighbors in need.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us. Facts about intellectual disabilities were sourced from the Special Olympics website, http://www.specialolympics.org. Sign up for the Special Olympics Torch Run by contacting Sheriff Deputy Lisa Vasquez at lisa.vasques@eaglecounty.us or 970-376-7036.