Editor’s note: As part of National Volunteer Week, WeAreSOSC.org will highlight a handful of volunteers who have made a difference in the lives of Special Olympics Southern California athletes. Today, we are featuring venue managers. Check back each day to read about how our volunteers spread acceptance and inclusion throughout local communities.
As a lifelong sports fan, Officer Nick Sanchez of the Santa Maria Police Department was immediately drawn to the competitive aspect of Special Olympics Southern California. He quickly learned that the competitions were only half of the fun.
While growing up, sports were the common bond for himself and friends with siblings who competed with Special Olympics. He would attend events, cheering on alongside his friends.
By the time he joined law enforcement, Officer Sanchez was presented with the opportunity to volunteer through Sgt. Nate Tortorica.
“I got attached quickly, growing up in sports and watching sports, and knowing this type of involvement and volunteer work is all for a better cause,” Officer Sanchez said. “It’s super fun to watch [the athletes] compete. Even with how competitive they are, no matter whether they win or lose they always end with a great attitude. That pushes me to have the same attitude.
“They’re just having the time of their life.”
As part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics, Officer Sanchez has had a number of experiences including walking in the Flame of Hope prior to the 2018 Fall Games.
But it’s the memories from fundraisers, in particular, that stick with him.
In February, local law enforcement took part in a Tip-A-Cop event that allows officers to switch roles for one night and wait tables. The tips received go toward local Special Olympics programs, and on that day there were “extracurricular activities” patrons could request in exchange for donations.
“They could donate money and they had to do a song, or do karaoke, or push-ups,” he recalled. “What really stood out was the athletes and (police) chiefs got together and did the Macarena, and it got the whole place to do it.”
It’s that kind of lighthearted environment that allows the athletes and law enforcement personnel to enjoy each other’s company “outside of a work environment,” Officer Sanchez added.
Over the years, he’s noticed as athletes and officers become more than just a familiar face to one another, there’s a more personal feel when he attends events.
In the future, Officer Sanchez said, he hopes to grow the fundraising aspect with the addition of a Central Coast softball tournament.
Volunteer Austin Gould contributed to this report.