|Pittsfield Officer to Carry Torch in Austria For Special Olympics World Games|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
06:39AM / Saturday, February 18, 2017
|After years of dedication to Special Olympics, Officer Darren Derby will fly to Austria to be part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg to help kick off the World Winter Games.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The job of a police officer means dealing with people on their worst days, day after day.
And it wears on the officers. Eight years ago, Officer Darren Derby started getting involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run fundraising efforts for the Special Olympics. He's raised more than a half-million dollars in support of those athletes.
He does it because he feels those athletes do more for him than he could ever do for them. They give him a joy that gets torn away from officers on a daily basis dealing with the worst of the worst.
"The job itself brings a tremendous amount of stress. A lot us wonder 'is this the right job for us, is this the right career path?' I can honestly say that if it wasn't for Special Olympics and the athletes and the joy they bring us, I probably wouldn't still be in this profession. I think that's the harsh reality for a lot of us who are involved with the Torch Run program," Derby said.
"Our days are pretty much filled with everybody else's bad days. We come to work to help people out on their worst day. That puts a damper on our own personal life. Athletes, they don't see that in you. They care about your feelings but they don't care that you've had a bad day. They just care that they can make you have a good day. If you are frowning, they turn it upside down. If you are finding something to be a difficult path that you want to achieve, they are the answer to that."
It's become a passion for Derby as his fundraising efforts for Special Olympics has grown from one or two small events to a whole slate of fundraisers to reel in more than $100,000 annually.
That passion hits a pinnacle in a few weeks when Derby travels to Austria to carry the torch to start the Special Olympics World Winter Games.
For 10 days Derby will be on a team running through Austrian towns, stopping in each to perform ceremonies with the torch as it makes its way to the opening ceremony in Schladming, Austria.
"You are over there running for 10 days and I am excited about feeling the emotions of what myself and the other officers are going to go through within the 10 days, the struggles we are going to have. To be able to overcome that, I think, gives strength to the athletes as well," Derby said. "It is not that you are just over there going to run for 10 days and hit a total of 49 cities. You are going to impact hundreds of thousands of people. You are going to impact their lives and really spread the world about inclusion and what Special Olympics really is. It is not just sports, it is about the inclusion of our athletes in local programs."
Derby flies out of the United States on March 7 and the series of formal programs begins two days later. He'll be joining 125 other law enforcement officers in the run which goes through 49 cities and towns. The officers are split into teams, each with an athlete with them, and run through multiple towns a day.
"Every day for the 10 days you get up at 5:30 in the morning, you are usually ready to go by 6, 6:15, you are on the bus for 6:30 and you are probably running anywhere from 7:30 to 8 in the morning. You run in anywhere from a mile to three miles into the city, you have an hourlong ceremony, and then you run anywhere from a half mile to a mile out of the city," Derby said.
"You hop onto your transportation, whether it is a bus or a van, and your team heads to the next destination which can be anywhere from a half hour to four hours away."
The teams break apart and merge back together for larger ceremonies, four or five times a day. Derby will personally be involved in two dozen ceremonies. At the end, there is a large polar plunge. In total, he will travel 1,700 miles throughout the country bringing the torch to the opening ceremonies.
"I'm excited to be there. I am excited to experience a once in a lifetime thing to do. People can go anywhere in the world but to hit 20 something cities in 10 days with athletes and officers from around the world is, there is nothing better than that," Derby said.
He will be packing a suitcase full of mementos from the local program and area to which he'll be passing out in Austria. And at each ceremony, those involved are also given mementos from elected officials and communities there, so that suitcase will be filled back up before he leaves.
He plans to use his Instagram and other social media sites to help the local community experience the entire trip with him.
This is the second time Derby had been offered a chance to run in the opening ceremonies but he was unable to two years ago. He had been offered to participate in the Los Angeles summer games but had to turn it down.
"We are in this to make others lives better. When you are asked to do something, even when I was asked to go to LA, I was like really?" said Derby, who envisioned running over sunny beaches. "I was pumped. I was excited. I was kind of disappointed when I realized I couldn't go but I knew that there was always another chance."
His colleague John Bassi had participated in such a run in South Korea a number of years ago. Derby was chosen this time by the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Torch Run Committee because of his dedication to Special Olympics over the years. Bassi had started the local efforts and Derby jumped on board.
"John Bassi was a perfect fit for that because his son is autistic and an athlete. From there it has grown from two tip a cop events a year to now major events we hold throughout the year," Derby said. "In total, we are over the $600,000, close to $650,000. We are going into our eighth year, so in seven years."
From local polar plunges, to 5K road races, to Cop on Top, the local Law Enforcement Torch Run program has expanded from raising around $5,000 per year to now $100,000 per year. But Derby says the program is more than that, it also creates relationships between those in Torch Run program and the athletes and their families.
"They become family. No matter where you go there is always an athlete who will likely be smiling," Derby said.
At this year's Cop on Top Derby held a side fundraiser for the Austria trip. He teamed up with local businessman Ernie Weider to do a plunge in cold water every hour on the hour. Businesses and individuals contributed and sponsored the plunges. The goal started at $2,500 — half of which stays with the local program and the other half stays in Austria. At that fundraising level, Derby will receive a torch, which he plans to frame as a memento.
But he hit $3,000 so he set his sights higher, saying if he can get a second $2,500 then he will get a second torch for Weider. They hit that. So, he set his sights on $7,500 so he could get a third to give to the local Special Olympics program.
"The torch we have is kind of old and what an amazing experience that would be for the athletes at some of these events to be able to hold a torch from the Austrian games," Derby said.
He hit that total. But he held back any other formal fundraising efforts because so many people already contribute to his other efforts.
"I've got a lot going on so it is hard to go back to the same pocket that's fed you and say 'can you give one more time,'" Derby said. "Instead I opened it up to the public and made it a publicized event."
Derby is excited for the experience, which is different from a typical vacation. He's excited to join the 125 other officers who don't stop when the badge is taken off at the end of the day. He is excited to be on a world stage with others who are fighting for inclusion and awareness of people with intellectual disabilities.
And in that fight, he is following the Special Olympics motto of "let me win but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."