Howie invited to participate in national Law Enforcement Torch Run


WEST BRANCH — Ogemaw County Sheriff Howie Hanft was recently bestowed the honor of represent the state of Michigan in the Final Leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run at the 2018 Special Olympics Summer Games in Seattle.

“There is a 20-member executive council and Howie had more votes than anyone,” said John Card, Michigan LETR director and inspector with the Michigan State Police. “Howie isn’t on the council but he has been and he is so dedicated. We nominate people who are deserving to go. His contributions to Special Olympics Michigan through the Law Enforcement Torch Run are so significant it was a no-brainer when selecting someone to represent Michigan.”

Howie had his choice between the 2018 U.S. games in Seattle or the 2019 world games in Abu Dhabi.

Howie wanted time to think on it, but he was informed that there wasn’t any and he needed to make his choice, so he chose Seattle. Howie said he has been wanting to make a trip out west for a long time, and he is looking forward to the trip.

Howie has been an active participant in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for nearly as long as he has been an officer, participating in his first run in the early 1980s.

The torch run is a national organization with the mission to raise funds and awareness for the Special Olympics. In recognition of his involvement in the organization, Howie was inducted into the LETR Hall of Fame Jan. 12, another prestigious honor as he joined only four others in the history of the organization and is the only one not to have served as a director of the organization.

Howie’s energy is the perfect embodiment of the organization’s mission, Card said after Howie’s induction.

“If we could bottle Howie’s energy and sell it we would never need a fundraiser for Special Olympics Michigan,” he said. “We would have all the money needed. He is very energetic and very enthusiastic. Howie is synonymous with summer games in Mount Pleasant. If there is an athlete that doesn’t know Howie they haven’t been to summer games.”

Howie’s fundraising passion is of little surprise to anyone in the county, especially when it comes to anything that benefits the Special Olympics or its athletes.

While he has actively been raising money for the Special Olympics for more than 30 years, it wasn’t until around 2000 when Howie became fully immersed after experiencing the summer games at the invitation of his now-wife Lynn Kavalunas.

“Once you go to the summer games and see the athletes and the happiness we bring, you never forget it,” Howie said. “Once you see the end result of what you are doing and why you are doing it, it really makes it special.”

The trip will be bittersweet for Howie, who is honored for the opportunity but disappointed that his wife won’t be by his side.

“We usually do this together,” he said.

Lynn can join Howie in Seattle, but he said he was told she can’t join him on the run.

Howie said the excitement and the support among the athletes is really something to witness.

“They don’t have a jealous or mean bone in their body,” he said. “It’s so amazing.”

When a player falls, the athletes stop to help them up, and when a player wins, everyone cheers, Howie said.

Despite the fact that Howie refers to them as children, he stops often to correct himself, noting athletes of all ages compete at the Special Olympics, and adding that many athletes are collegiate-


“They train really hard and they work hard to prepare for the competitions,” he said. “They run in the same rules as the colleges do.”

As part of his latest honor, Howie experience an all-inclusive trip to Seattle in he will participate in five days of running and the honor of guiding the Special Olympics Flame of Hope into the Husky Stadium, where he will join more than 4,000 athletes and tens of thousands of volunteers and supporters from around the nation to mark the start of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.

“Howie is not only a friend but he is one of those guys I admire and think the world of,” Card said.

Locally, Howie along with dozens of others in the community will participate in a Law Enforcement Torch Run Sept. 10. The run will start at the Ogemaw County Jail and will finish at McDonald’s in West Branch. Registration starts at 6:30 p.m. and with runners leave at 7 p.m. All registered runners will receive a complimentary meal at McDonald’s upon finishing the event.


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Tony Ventura

Congratulations Howie! You do our county proud!!

Friday, September 8, 2017 | Report this

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