It’s been one year since Scott Teal (MPA’96, BSPA’90) traveled 7,300 miles and a world away from his home in Central Indiana. At the time, he stood in a desert in the United Arab Emirates, holding the torch for the Special Olympics World Games. And there was nowhere else he’d rather be.
“It was just so incredible to be a part of something like this and to understand the power of its mission,” he says. “Words can’t describe that experience. It humbles you and teaches you about grace.”
On a normal day, Teal would be working as a senior special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). But for two weeks in March 2019, he represented the United States in the Law Enforcement Torch Run’s Final Leg. Teal joined hundreds of other law enforcement officers and athletes from around the globe to carry the Flame of Hope across the UAE to open the event in Abu Dhabi.
The LETR began in 1981 when law enforcement officers from around the world became “Guardians of the Flame,” carrying the Special Olympics Torch and “Flame of Hope” to the Opening Ceremonies of the Special Olympics World Games.
This was Teal’s second trip to a World Games for the LETR. He was first selected to carry the torch in the LETR in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2013. He also participates in the annual state-level games and other Special Olympic events here at home.
His relationship with the organization goes back nearly 30 years. Not long after graduating with his degree criminal justice, a coworker invited him to attend a Special Olympics swim meet to hand out medals.
“I had an ‘aha!’ moment while I was there,” he recalls.
It was what he saw—and didn’t see—during at the event that caught his attention.
“I didn’t hear a single cross word, no complaining. I didn’t see any coaches screaming at the kids to do better. I just saw fun and smiles. There was pride in their accomplishments. They give their all and they’re not afraid to do so.”
Teal says after that moment, he was hooked.
“What started as a spark turned into a roaring flame,” he continues. “Here I am 30 years later and I still get emotional and inspired by what I see. When I see these athletes and how hard they’ve worked, it challenges me personally. It forces me to look at my own limitations and look beyond what seems possible.”
Teal chose a career in law enforcement so he would have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, especially those in need.
“I can’t imagine seeing a need and not stepping forward,” he says.
But this? This was a different kind of opportunity.
“This isn’t about making arrests and filing case reports, it’s our true mission of helping people that matters,” he adds. “In my work, I see so much need. I’m not always able to help a lot of people at once with what I do. But, to quote Mother Teresa, if you can’t help many, help one.”
Teal says that concept was instilled in him during his time with O’Neill.
“Through my education, I learned a lot about the world and the importance of helping people however you can,” he says. “If we want to make the world a better place we have to do something. We have to act.”
Teal serves on O’Neill’s Distinguished Alumni Council and says his role there allows him to draw inspiration from his fellow DAC members.
“I see other O’Neill alums doing amazing things with their careers, a lot of which is focused on doing good for others,” he says. “That’s a binding force that brings the O’Neill family together,”
Teal is looking to spread that mission to others. His daughters have been involved with Special Olympics since they were 8 years old. He’s had the chance to introduce others to the organization. Each time, he’s seen the same spark in them that he experienced decades ago.
“It doesn’t take a lot to do something that is life-changing for someone,” Teal says. “Opportunity is all around us. It’s just a matter of taking a step forward and committing yourself to something.”
If you would like to become a volunteer with the Special Olympics, you can connect with an organization near you at this link.