Ken Veach of Schaumburg has carried the torch for Special Olympics Illinois for nearly 20 years, but now he takes his flame to an even higher level: the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea.
A retired FBI officer, Beach has supported Special Olympics through the Law Enforcement Torch Run even before his daughter, Molly was born.
This month, he will be among 100 law enforcement officers -- the only one from Illinois -- to carry the torch through South Korea. There are 50 torchbearers from this country and another 50 from countries around the world that support Special Olympics.
But it will be more than a ceremonial run for Veath and his colleagues.
The group, which also includes 10 Special Olympic athletes and support personnel, will break up into two groups and run separate routes through the country, making ceremonial stops at host communities along the way.
"We've been told we'll be running 6-10 miles a day, outside in the winter," Veath says. "But it's not as hard as it sounds. We'll be stopping five to six times a day for media interviews to help raise awareness."
They will make their way toward the opening ceremonies Jan. 29 in Pyeongchang. That's where 3,300 athletes and coaches representing 112 countries will be waiting, as well as more than 15,000 spectators.
Dave Breen, president and CEO of Special Olympics Illinois, says the year-round partnership with the law enforcement community is vital.
"They give inspiration to our athletes who see them as the guardians of the Special Olympics Flame of Hope," Breen says.
Five athletes and one coach from Illinois are headed to the world games. They include Rebecca Whitehead of McHenry in Alpine skiing, Jeremy Kuehn of Yorkville in cross-country skiing, figure skater Erin Hart of Pleasant Hill, speed skater Patrick McCarthy of Chicago and Nathan Warren of downstate Princeton in snowshoeing. Dave Dauphin of Carpentersville is one of the Team USA coaches of snowshoeing.
Veath's daughter, Molly, who has Down syndrome, started participating in Special Olympics at the age of 8. Now 30, she continues her involvement, mostly through unified bowling and in track and field events each spring.
"I think she enjoys being with people of the same ability as her," Veach says. "It's very social and it's inspiring to see how they support one another."
Over the years, the law enforcement officers have increased their roles to do more than the torch run. At the state Special Olympics games they volunteer with the opening ceremony and award medals to the athletes.
"The athletes love that, having people in uniform awarding them medals," Veach adds.
He, too, has upped his involvement. Veach now sits on two events management committees, for Area 18 Special Olympics which takes in the Northwest suburbs, and for Area 13, which takes in southern Lake County.
Carrying the torch in Korea will be something of a dream come true, and in part a culmination of his years of dedication to the mission of Special Olympics.
"I applied to be the torch bearer at the World Games in Japan four years ago, and then again two years ago for the games in Greece, but never made it," Veach says. "Each state gets to send one representative and it sort of depends on how involved you've been."
Overall, Illinois law enforcement continues to remain involved. Last year, 3,000 members raised $3 million to support Special Olympic programs.