Azusa Police Chief Stephan Hunt is no stranger to Special Olympics and the Los Angeles/San Gabriel Valley region. It’s become customary to find him in attendance at the Pomona Area Games, interacting with the athletes he’s become familiar with on a first name basis over the years.
But he can thank his daughter, Madison, and her old middle school for the introduction.
About nine years ago, in order to advance through the eighth grade, Madison had a school requirement to get involved with Special Olympics in San Dimas. But what started as a mandatory school assignment became her “happy place.”
“I love coming here every year and just seeing all the athletes,” said Madison, now 22. “To see the looks on their faces when they’re competing, after they compete, to cheering on other athletes they’re competing against — it’s just an amazing experience.”
Dad tagged along and both were “bit by the bug the first time.”
“After that, we just started volunteering every year,” he added, noting that it’s also served as an annual father-daughter bonding moment.
“We connect very well with the athletes. We know a lot of them by name, and by recognition some of them will come up and [talk] because we’ve known them for several years from this event. It brings great joy to come out and have this experience with them and be able to interact with them, and make a difference, hopefully, in their lives and their families.”
This past April, the Hunts helped kick off the Pomona Area Games Opening Ceremonies by jogging alongside a pair of athletes with the “Flame of Hope” on the track at the Boys Republic in Chino Hills.
Chief Hunt spent the rest of the afternoon exchanging high-fives, draping medals around the athletes’ necks, while Madison assisted with the medals presentation ceremony and getting the athletes to where they needed to be.
There isn’t any one moment that particularly continues to bring them back as volunteers, but the Hunts did agree that one thing is clearly evident at every event:
Joy and appreciation.
“It’s such a wonderful experience,” Chief Hunt said. “There’s so many different levels [of competition], and no matter what the level is there’s big hearts. Just to see the smiles on the faces and the appreciation, and the joy and the excitement as they compete, is just tremendous.”
Added Madison: “There’s just like a light that goes off in the athletes’ faces every time you watch them compete, and it’s just something that’s so special. You don’t see that in a lot of athletes nowadays, and they just appreciate everything that the volunteers do, that their coaches do. They just find such joy in life, and I think that’s the part that keeps bringing me back.”
Law enforcement officials or agencies looking to get involved with Special Olympics Southern California should reach out to Richard Fernandez at email@example.com or call 562.502.1132. For more information about the Law Enforcement Torch Run, please visit sosc.org/letr.