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Guardian of the Flame: Sean Wheeler, Special Olympics World Games Final Leg Runner

Wheeler at Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023

If you can’t run, Plunge… unless it’s summer,” said Sean Wheeler, a Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Parole Agent, when speaking on his experience with the Michigan Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR). Wheeler is an avid Polar Plunger, making an icy dip each winter to raise money and awareness for SOMI athletes. But running? Hard pass. In fact, despite his commitment to volunteering with LETR, running to Wheeler is “miserable.” 

Wheeler and his misery will be in good company June 14-17, 2023 as he joins an elite group of law enforcement runners for the LETR Final Leg, escorting the Flame of Hope throughout Germany leading up to the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 Opening Ceremony. 

“Do you want to do something dumb?” Those words from a coworker to Wheeler drew him into the Special Olympics movement more than 14 years ago. That “something dumb” was a Polar Plunge at Reeds Lake in Grand Rapids. “I hit the bottom when I did my cannonball,” he said of his first Plunge. What started as one Plunge, grew into a passion project. Wheeler rallied others, created a team, and made 11 jumps at nine events across the state. “I had a lot of fun doing it,” Wheeler explained. “It gets rid of a lot of social barriers, whether it be cliques in law enforcement or cliques with athletes.”

​While winter is Wheeler’s season to shine, he’s trading in a splash for some sweat equity this summer. Still wanting to do more to showcase inclusion, Wheeler expressed interest in the Final Leg to Michigan LETR leaders. “It was a long shot,” Wheeler said when he learned he’d been voted in for the international run. 

Wheeler Final Leg Head ShotThe Parole Agent has spent months training for his three-mile stretch of the Final Leg. “It was first excitement, then it was oh… wait… I have to run,” Wheeler said with a laugh. “I am not a fan of running. My body has hurt every day of 2023.” The aversion to running hasn’t stopped him from daily training and the push to reach his 10-minute mile goal. “I will never be the first guy on the bus,” Wheeler said when referring to the team he’ll be traveling with throughout Germany. “I might wish that I was but, having that honor of being a Guardian of the Flame makes it all worth it.”

This preparation is sure to pay off, as Wheeler and his team will be running 6 to 7 times a day for 4 days. For someone that hates to run, Wheeler isn’t phased. “It’s such a positive aspect of my life,” he explained. “Being the person to go over there and represent Michigan, says that in my 28 years in law enforcement, I’ve actually made a positive change.” 

Wheeler will be running with an international crew, with LETR representatives from Austria, Canada, and Iceland. Aside from raising awareness for the Special Olympics Movement, the team has a goal of establishing an LETR program in Germany. “We want to show them the benefits of LETR and working with the Special Olympics,” Wheeler said on his time in Berlin. 

When he’s not Plunging, Wheeler enjoys skeet/trap shooting, trail riding, and riding his Harley as a form of stress relief.

Written by: Ethan Wagner, Special Olympics Marketing & Communications Intern ​