Written by: Samantha Boyd, Special Olympics Maryland Volunteer Coordinator
Over the course of the year, countless law enforcement officers dedicate their time to support Special Olympics Maryland. Whether it be through awarding medals, participating in the Torch Run, or throwing themselves into the freezing Chesapeake Bay come every January, officers commit themselves not only to the service of their community but also to the athletes. Chief Melissa Hyatt of Baltimore County has not only done her time on the force, but also in the frigid waters of Sandy Point State Park.
Chief Melissa Hyatt’s involvement with Special Olympics Maryland spans well before her four-year stint as a Super Plunger for the annual MSP Polar Bear Plunge. It starts in her middle school years, acting as a hugger with a friend during Summer Games. As a child, Hyatt had a love for volunteering. “If there’s a place to volunteer, I did it,” Hyatt said over FaceTime, speaking to her passion. “So we volunteered for the Special Olympics, and absolutely loved it.”
Hyatt’s work with the organization would continue into adulthood, through being involved with the Torch Run and the Police Plunge through Baltimore City Police Department. A few years before she retired, Hyatt would be asked to take over the coordinating efforts for both the Torch Run as well as acting as Team Captain for the BCPD Plunge team. Within two years of agreeing to do this, she would be signing herself up to be a Super Plunger, committing four years to the effort and preparing for her fifth. “Somehow, I’ve agreed to do it next year for the 25th anniversary because why would I miss that, apparently?”
Hyatt laughed as she said this, however, through speaking with her it easily becomes apparent what keeps her coming back. To Hyatt, Special Olympics Maryland is a unique organization that through sports provides incredible individuals with an opportunity to build their confidence and make them feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. In terms of her relationship to SOMD as a Law Enforcement Officer, she spoke to how officers are seen as heroic figures, but when working with the athletes the script gets flipped. “We as police officers look at them and everything that they overcome and what they do on a daily basis. They’re really the heroic ones.” It is the relationship between officer and athlete that Hyatt believes makes volunteering with SOMD stand out.
When asked what advice she would give someone looking to get involved with Special Olympics Maryland, she spoke once more to the relationship between volunteer and athlete. “You know, these athletes are our friends, our neighbors, our family members. The little bit of work that we put into, really the enrichment that they get out of it is just so tremendous. These are some of the most kind-hearted, genuine people that you’ll ever meet in your life, and it really is an honor to get to be a part of this organization.”
We would like to thank Chief Hyatt and the multitude of other officers like her who join forces with our athletes to create a more inclusive world. There’s no second or third place in volunteering, only going for the gold!
This article was written by Kira Northrop