Ride on: Muscatine Torch Ride supports Special Olympics

Willy Leza, Quinn Riess, and Jason Miller preparing to set off on the 2020 Muscatine Torch Ride.

MUSCATINE, Iowa–An annual tradition for well over 20 years, the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Department’s Torch Ride has supported Special Olympics Muscatine with few interruptions. An important source of funding for Special Olympics, the Torch Ride has helped pay for many athletes to participate in the State Summer Games. According to Captain Quinn Riess, since he began participating in the Torch Ride in 1999, only one got canceled when severe thunderstorms threatened riders’ safety.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic limited the sort of events people could have and moved the Special Olympics State Summer Games online, Riess and his colleagues knew they still wanted to support local athletes, both now and when they return to in person practices and events. “This year, with the pandemic, we wanted to keep with the summer games at the end of the week,” emphasized Riess. With some careful planning and adaptations, they organized a safe 2020 Torch Ride.

Most years, Corporal Wilfredo “Willy” Leza leads fundraising efforts. Through a combination of donation cans placed at around town and donation letters to local businesses, Leza brought in more than $8,000 last year and hoped to raise more than $10,000 this year. With many businesses closed, Leza took the Torch Ride campaign online. With donations still coming in, Leza estimates this year’s Ride has brought in at least $5,000-$6,000 already. If you would like to help the Sheriff’s Department reach their goal, you may still donate at https://www.muscatiney.org/donate/, select “Special Olympics,” and note that your donation supports the Torch Run in the notes section.

On May 18, the Muscatine Torch Ride kicked off at the Muscatine Community Y, stopped at the Salvation Army of Muscatine County to visit them as they unloaded food from the Pandemic Pantry food drive, and then followed its usual route out to Riverside Casino. Instead of having many Special Olympics Muscatine athletes and coaches, local first responders and staff from Riverside Casino make the ride, only Riess and Special Olympics Muscatine Director Jason Miller rode with Leza following along as a support vehicle. “We know it’s not the same, but it’s something,” said Riess.

As for Miller, he enjoyed the attention and continued support it brought to the Virtual Summer Games, which ran from May 21 through 23. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” he said. “We wanted to at least have something for the summer games.” This year, Special Olympics athletes from across the state selected events they wanted to participate in from the Special Olympics Iowa Facebook page. They then trained for those events at home and uploaded videos of themselves completing each challenge. As in an in person competition, officials then matched athletes into age and ability groups, and assigned ranks to each participant.