Special Olympics Florida

Bringing the Flame of Hope® to Abu Dhabi

When most people in Florida start thinking about Polar Plunge around this time of year, the last things that come to mind are deserts and barren landscape. But for one Florida law enforcement officer, that’s exactly what a very unique 2019 will hold.

In March, Osceola County Deputy Sheriff Joe Whitson will be taking the Abu Dhabi Dip in the middle of the Arabian Desert. The plunge into ice-filled pools in the capital of the United Arab Emirates will serve as a Special Olympics fundraiser at the conclusion of the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg® for the 2019 Special Olympics World Games.

The highly selective Final Leg team will consist of members of law enforcement and Special Olympics athletes from around the world who will carry the Special Olympics Flame of Hope to every corner of the United Arab Emirates from March 3-14 to heighten awareness of the Special Olympics mission and the 2019 Special Olympics World Games being hosted in Abu Dhabi March 14-21. Deputy Sheriff Whitson and Special Olympics Florida athlete Daniel Fundora of Miami will be the two runners representing the Sunshine State.

Both Deputy Sheriff Whitson and Fundora are looking forward to seeing the culture and sights of the Middle East in March while helping to spread the mission of Special Olympics. Even though Fundora will not compete in the World Games he hopes to in the future, “It’s great to have an opportunity to check out the World Games activities and competitions in person. I want to be able to experience and compete as an athlete at the World Games in the future.  I’m honored to be a part of the Final Leg because it makes a difference by breaking discrimination and helps acceptance of abilities, not disabilities.”

Deputy Sherriff Whitson was selected to serve as a Guardian of the Flame in the Final Leg thanks to his many years of championing the Special Olympics mission as a committed member of the Law Enforcement Torch Run since 1989. He has assisted in coordinating and promoting countless Special Olympics Florida events in Brevard and Osceola Counties like the Torch Run and Tip-A-Cop fundraisers. He has volunteered at local competitions and of course, he’s been involved in Polar Plunge.

Deputy Sheriff Whitson (far right) at Publix for the Digital Torch Campaign benefitting Special Olympics Florida

This kind of selflessness is exactly why Deputy Sheriff Whitson was selected to participate in the Final Leg. But for him, volunteering is a no-brainer. “You can throw a dollar in a bucket and it might make you feel good for a second, but when you’re actually getting involved in the events and athletes tell you that you’re their hero, it really affects you and keeps you going,” Deputy Sherriff Whitson said.

Fundora was also selected due to his many years of being a Special Olympics athlete, 17 to be exact, and his dedication to the organization. Fundora not only competes in 6 different sports, but he is also actively involved in Athlete Leadership and advocates as a Health Messenger at events such as Special Olympics Capitol Hill Day.

Athlete Daniel Fundora competing at the
2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Stand Up Paddle

“I was surprised when I got chosen for the Final Leg in Abu Dhabi. I heard through email thinking it was spam, but it wasn’t. When I got a call from Special Olympics I knew it was real and I was so excited,” said Fundora. 

The Torch Run Final Leg is not only a salute to the athletes from around the world who will compete in the Special Olympics World Games, but also an honor for the participating law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes who comprise the Torch Run Final Leg Team.