Cyclists saddle up for return of Special Olympics Torch Ride

MUSCATINE, Iowa–After Special Olympics Muscatine and the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office scaled back their 2020 Torch Ride due to the COVID-19 pandemic, riders from both organizations got back in the saddle May 10 for the 2021 Torch Ride. One of the most important fundraisers of the year for Special Olympics Muscatine, all the riders involved felt excited to come together for a good cause and to enjoy the camaraderie of biking together once again.

Special Olympics Muscatine’s Torch Ride has taken place for more than 22 years. For the past six, Wilfredo “Willy” Leza has led the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office’s fundraising efforts for the Torch Ride. This year, Leza set a goal of raising $10,000, on par with his goal for last year. By partnering with businesses such as Tee’s, which donated all of their April tips to the Torch Ride, and Salvatore’s, which donated 15% of their sales one night to the event, the Sheriff’s office raised $10,569.83, and donations continue to come in.

After a year when many people experienced financial difficulties, Leza felt extremely pleased with the level of support received. “When the bank called and gave me the total, it was very relieving” he said. “We have some good local supporters, which is always nice.” In the event that the Sheriff’s Office got near their total but did not raise at least $10,000, Leza shared that several local businesses offered to help make up the difference.

For Special Olympics Director Jason Miller, this funding will make a tremendous difference. “We’re very grateful for the support of the Sheriff’s Department and the Community,” he stated, adding that all of the money raised, “will go straight to our programs and our athletes.”

In March of 2020, Special Olympics at both the state and local level paused all in person activities for the safety of their athletes, many of whom have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk for complications for COVID-19. With many athletes and their coaches now vaccinated, Special Olympics has resumed local practices and instead of competing in state level events this year has opted to host several local sporting events just for their athletes instead. The week of May 17, Special Olympic athletes in bocce and soccer will get to showcase their skills in a pair of small competitions held at the Y. On May 22, track and field, Special Olympics largest spring sport, will hold a track meet in two parts at Susan Clark Junior High School.

2020 left many people feeling lonely. Miller sees the Torch Ride and the return to local competitions as a great way for Muscatine’s athletes to start reconnecting with each other and the community. “It feels good, and not just for our athletes,” shared Miller. “These guys already deal with social isolation–getting them back out is great for them and our community.”

This year, 10 Special Olympics Athletes, six members of the Muscatine Sheriff’s Office, and two members of the Muscatine Police Office completed this year’s Torch Run, which predominantly followed the county’s trail system. Riders anticipated returning to the Y around noon, where a Guy and a Grill graciously provided lunch for everyone involved.