By Marit Gookin, WyoTodayMedia Staff Writer
Germany awaits Riverton Special Olympics athlete Lewis Fancher and retired Wyoming Highway Patrolman Keith Groeneweg, who are headed there soon to be part of the Guardians of the Flame team in the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) for Special Olympics. Fancher and Groeneweg were selected to be part of the Final Leg team, which will run the Flame of Hope torch throughout Germany before safely delivering it to the 2023 Special Olympics World Games Berlin Opening Ceremony on June 17.
LETR, which was founded in 1981 in Kansas, brings together law enforcement professionals and Special Olympians in an event similar to the Olympics Torch Relay, and has raised millions of dollars worldwide to help bring Special Olympics athletes to events and raise awareness. According to a press release, LETR is the Special Olympics’ largest grass-roots fundraiser and public awareness vehicle in the world.
“What started … as a flicker of hope for Special Olympics has now become a roaring flame of stability for Special Olympics athletes worldwide,” LETR founder and retired chief Richard LaMunyon is quoted as saying on LETR’s website.
Fancher, a highly accomplished Special Olympics athlete who has been competing for many years and has won multiple gold medals, explained that he was selected out of eight candidates nationwide for the honor of being one of the Guardians of the Flame who will participate in the Flame of Hope torch run. He is the first athlete from Wyoming to have been selected to be a part of the Final Leg team.
While some law enforcement officers and athletes who are representing the same region may not be familiar with each other, Fancher and Groeneweg are. “I’ve known Keith for a long time,” Fancher explained. “He does tons and tons of stuff for Special Olympics.” He said that Groeneweg may even be handing out medals at an upcoming Special Olympics event in Cody.
Both Fancher and Groeneweg have been raising money to fund their trip to Germany; after receiving a generous donation from a Special Olympics conference in Casper, they are both now over halfway to the $5,000 they each need to raise. Lewis and Groeneweg also both have online fundraising pages where they can take donations from the community and other supporters; the total amounts on these pages do not include the amount they received from the conference. Fancher’s donation page can be found at igfn.us/vf/FinalLeg2023/LewisFancher, and Groeneweg’s is at igfn.us/vf/FinalLeg2023/KeithGroeneweg.
Fancher has no plans to rest once the duo has returned from Europe; he said that this year will be the first year that Wyoming State Special Olympics will run in three years, and he plans to be there. He’s also looking forward to the upcoming spring season, which will include chances to compete in softball, basketball, and track, and he encouraged anyone who feels potentially interested in participating in the Special Olympics – as an athlete, a coach, or a volunteer – to reach out to the Wyoming State Special Olympics organization.