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Soaring Through SOMO

By: Lt. Col. Ray Lauer, SOMO Board Member

If one were to describe my experiences with Special Olympics Missouri as an airplane ride, you might say it was a flight that began uneventfully, but believe me, I predict will have a nice soft landing. I was a cop at the time in a high level position with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Assuredly, I was familiar with Special Olympics because we had a contingent of officers who were participants, in various capacities, supporting the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR). My wife and I donated money to the LETR, purchasing shirts and the like, but as a deputy chief with tremendous responsibilities, I was really busy and didn’t find the time to do more. 

Then one weekend in 1991, the chief asked me to attend a Missouri Police Chiefs meeting at the Lake of the Ozarks, and my wife Bev accompanied me. That entailed attending the Saturday evening banquet that was arranged and sponsored by Special Olympics Missouri. At the conclusion of the meal, we received a true surprise. The program featured a young man, an athlete from the Kansas City area, who revealed how he had participated in Special Olympics, displayed medals he had earned, and told the audience in glowing terms what Special Olympics meant to him and his family. He received a standing ovation. That served as a wake up call. How can anyone be so busy they couldn’t do more to support this wonderful organization? That was my thought, but also a question Bev posed to me while we traveled home. 

The flight had begun. The following week, I called the officers in our department who were most involved in the LETR and informed them of my weekend experience and inquired how I could help. They had several suggestions, one of which was to use my position to encourage other police department personnel to get involved. That was easy. Another idea was for me to join them as members of the Torch Run Committee. That was easy, too. Euphoria followed when I witnessed more clearly how the law enforcement community in St. Louis and throughout Missouri proved to be such a great benefit to the athletes. 

Soon, I was attending athletic contests and witnessing those who were my new heroes, Special Olympics athletes. They were pleased seeing us in our uniforms, when we offered high fives, and hung medals around their necks, but I as an individual was more impressed by their pure joy and dedication at being participants in sporting events. I recognized these tremendously talented individuals had expended a great amount of time and effort as they competed in their respective sports. 

Within several years, there was to be a change in leadership for the LETR Committee, and Susan Stegeman along with officers of our department approached and asked if I would fill that role. That request was humbling, since I wasn’t sure I qualified for that important position. Besides, others had served on the committee far longer than I. But, I consented and was privileged to serve as the chairman of the LETR Committee during the years 1997 – 2003. I would have loved to continue in that role beyond that year, but it was time for me to retire from the police department. And with retirement I was made to surrender my uniforms, too. An old geezer not in uniform isn’t very impressive when awarding athletes the medals they have earned. 

Bev encouraged my continued involvement in Special Olympics and it was only 30 days after my retirement that I received a telephone call at home. Would I accept a nomination to serve on the SOMO Board of Directors? I did, but now after nearly eight years of Board involvement, and due to term limits, it is now nearing time for me to step aside from that role. 

Does one think I would now abandon Special Olympics? No way. I truly believe God has additional plans for others and me in our family. Our sons and daughter and their spouses have volunteered in various capacities through the years to support Special Olympics, most notably by going Over the Edge and plunging into frigid lake waters, but also attending Trivia Nights, buying T-Shirts, chances for the car raffles, and making other financial commitments. 

But a deeper involvement for us occurred in November 2008. Our son Matt, who is the St. Louis Metro Area Director for SOMO, and his wife Tracy welcomed their first child, Anderson. He affectionately is known as Andy, and was born with Down syndrome. 

So, as we prepare for the SOMO flight to end, we can only envision what the future holds, and surely it will be a safe landing. 

That’s because we all look at Andy as he progresses, smiles continually, and wows everyone … family, friends, day care counselors, and even strangers he encounters with that affectionate smile … and we dream about what his future holds. In near term, he’ll qualify to be a participant in the Young Athlete Program, and thereafter as he matures, we suspect he will become a premiere athlete and, later, one day step up to a microphone to offer his comments as a Global Messenger. 

So, we’ve landed and as we approach the tarmac, suffice it to say all the Lauers are now on board and qualify as members of the Special Olympics family!