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Duluth police lend ‘moral support’ and more to Special Olympics

Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay (left), along with officers Ken Zwak, who holds the torch, and Dan Chicos, take off on their annual run of the Special Olympics torch through the city to promote the upcoming state track and field and gymnastics meet. (Bob King /

The truck parked in front of Duluth City Hall on Friday morning said “Duluth Police Tactical Response Team.” There was no emergency, but police were up to some unusual tactics. They gathered on the steps for another run with the Special Olympics torch that signals the Minnesota Summer Games, set to take place next week in Stillwater.

With the torch lit, three officers, including Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, led the torch run from Priley Circle to Boy Scout Landing in Gary-New Duluth. The special police truck followed, along with four supporters on bicycles and other police officers in a pickup.

Officer Mike Thamm has been lauded and awarded for his outreach helping others in the community. The Special Olympics has been his pride and joy since the department began the Polar Plunge in 2001. It eventually led to efforts like the torch run to show support for Special Olympics programs throughout the year.

“It’s not just a track meet,” Thamm said early Friday as he prepared to light the torch. While most people know the Special Olympics for its track and field competitions, there are others that take place throughout the year. Duluth will have 12 athletes competing at the games at Stillwater High School, including gymnastics. Two runners are at a national meet this weekend, said Bert Wachlin, a coach and Area 3 volunteer sports coordinator. She said there are 200 Northland residents who take part in Olympic events throughout the year.

Police comprise the largest fundraising group for the Special Olympics across the country. The annual Polar Plunge hauled in $189,000 locally and $3.3 million statewide.

More than the money, officers “give that moral support,” Wachlin said.

They serve as referees, offer encouragement at events throughout the year and take pride in awarding medals in full uniform, Wachlin said. “The officers give a lot,” she said. “It’s a real nice fit. It’s just wonderful.”

In 2011, Thamm was named a Special Olympics Minnesota Outstanding Law Enforcement Torch Run Volunteer.

He didn’t run to Gary-New Duluth on Friday. “I’m old and fat,” he said, with a chuckle. But he will continue to support the cause.

“It’s a chance for me to give back to the community.”