Forever a Guardian of the Flame

Sr. Constable Mathieu Champagne (right) at the Final Leg Torch Run in UAE | Photo courtesy of Mathieu Champagne

Special Olympics programs could not exist without the dedication of our volunteers who support our athletes, act as catalysts for inclusion, and raise awareness for the movement here in Alberta.

Among our incredible volunteers are the Guardians of the Flame who carry the Flame of Hope as part of the Final Leg Torch run locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally.

The title is one that they take seriously and wear as a badge of honour.

Sr. Constable Mathieu Champagne of the Taber Police Service recently acted as a Guardian of the Flame for the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games and this role is one that he is proud of.

“It’s a huge responsibility and I have participated in Final Leg runs before, but nothing compares to what I participated in over that two weeks,” Mat said.

“We are not only guarding the Flame and escorting our athletes through the country, but what that flame signifies – inclusion and strength and determination. Improving lives and celebrating sport, that’s what it’s all about.”

Mat is currently the Southwest Chair for the Alberta Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) and has not missed an event in his region since 2013.

That year he was asked to take part in the annual 500km Provincial Bike Ride from Lethbridge to Edmonton.

And from that moment on he was hooked.

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LETR officers felt welcomed and celebrated throughout the Final Leg Torch Run. | Photo courtesy of Mat Champagne

“I can’t get enough,” Mat said. “Whether I have time or not I make sure I am there. I just feel like we get back so much more as police officers participating in LETR events than we could ever give.”

“We get back tenfold what we put in for sure.”

Later that year he rode into the arena for the 2013 Provincial Games in Devon – one of his most memorable experiences as an LETR member.

“We rode into an arena there and just seeing all the spectators and coaches and athletes that were so excited to have us there that just got me so hooked on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to be involved in LETR,” Mat said.

While he has been involved in every event and enjoys all of them, Mat stated that his favourite is the Polar Plunge.

“To see everyone having such a great time and the athletes seeing us jump in there and freeze our butts off it is just such a great event.”

From March 3 to March 14, Mat was part of a team of nearly 120 LETR officers and Special Olympics athletes from around the world who were chosen to participate in the Final Leg Torch Run in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) leading up to #AbuDhabi2019.

Mat said he was floored when he received the call and was excited to represent Alberta LETR, even though he had some reservations about travelling to a place he knew almost nothing about.

“It was life-changing. Once in a lifetime,” Mat said.

Over the 12 days in UAE Mat explained that they visited all of the emirates and participated in 44 ceremonies and 44 separate torch runs.

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Mat (Center) during one of the 44 runs that LETR officers and athletes took part in from Mar. 3 to Mar. 14 | Photo via MC

“They are doing things right in the UAE. They are doing things right for the Special Olympics. They are moving so far forward when you consider where they are in the planet in regards to culture and life and how not every country is very accepting and welcoming when it comes to inclusion, but the UAE is doing it right,” Mat stated.

“They are above and beyond and it just makes me believe that her in North America where we should be leading we should probably pick it up a bit.”

He advocated that he was blown away by the support from citizens, local police, and dignitaries who welcomed them at each ceremony and that he was lucky enough to speak in front of hundreds of media about what LETR meant to him.

All of these experiences were special to Mat, but he added that nothing compared to the Opening Ceremonies.

“To be there and to watch that flame come in and there was somewhere between 40 and 60 thousand people in the stadium, watching the Flame come in a light that cauldron to start the Games – that’s what it was all about. Hearing the people, seeing the people, all the athletes from around the world, 7500 taking up the entire floor plus the 40000 in the stands. It just gives me chills to even think about it now and it’s been [three] weeks since that happened.”

And if you happened to catch the broadcast on TSN you could catch a glimpse of Mat.

After his trip Mat is motivated to make every event he is a part of better here in Alberta.

For Mat, the LETR events are not simply about raising funds and awareness, but also about changing perspective

“If I can encourage my committee – we don’t need more events, we just need to make ours better. We need to make them. We need to celebrate them more, have more athletes there. We need more interaction,” said Mat.

“I want to make people hear the stories, see the athletes and are out there just welcoming. I want people to take the time to ask hey I heard about Special Olympics, what is this about.”

Looking ahead, Mat does not expect to stop being a Guardian of the Flame any time soon, even after he hangs up his badge.

“I will never forget [UAE] and ever since then like I could see myself doing this long after retirement – you just get back so much.”

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“They are doing things right for the Special Olympics." - Mat Champagne reflects on UAE | Photo via MC