RIO RANCHO, N.M. — It’s a pretty good life these days for Rio Rancho Police Officer Ben Sanchez: He does what he loves, and he loves what he does.
And what he loves most about his job has been his involvement with Special Olympics New Mexico, part of the global Special Olympics organization that empowers people with intellectual disabilities.
Sanchez, 41, grew up in a Rio Rancho neighborhood, Vista Hills, and graduated from Cibola High School — there was no Rio Rancho High School 24 years ago — in 1995.
He wasn’t the Wally Cleaver kind of lad, he said.
“They used to chase me around, Joe Harris and those guys,” Sanchez said, referring to the late Rio Rancho and Sandoval County law enforcement officer. “I figured, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, why not join ’em?'”
His law enforcement career began with the Belen Police Department, and after three years with BPD, he got a job with RRPD, where he’s spent the last 14 years.
He enjoys the everyday challenges and events that keep his job, spent mostly on his motorcycle, anything but mundane. And those Special Olympics New Mexico opportunities? He’s happy that all three chiefs he’s served under have been proponents of the cause.
Recently, Sanchez was named as a “Final Leg” participant, said to be “one of the most prestigious and significant opportunities available in our movement to help deliver a message of inclusion to communities where people with intellectual disabilities continue to fight for acceptance.”
And that community, where he’ll be a “Guardian of the Flame” next month, is Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirate. He says he’ll run six miles a day for about 14 days of the three weeks he’ll be there (Feb. 28-March 18), passing through all of the cities and communities across the UAE while carrying the Flame of Hope.
Oscar Solis, a new resident of the City of Vision and operations director for the annual SONM Torch Run, said people with intellectual disabilities in the UAE have been historically overlooked — and this phase of Special Olympics’ global movement should deliver a “message of hope” to communities there.
Sanchez and his Final Leg Team will deliver the Flame of Hope to the 2019 Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi Opening Ceremony on March 14. He is one of 96 law enforcement members selected to participate on the team.
Sanchez said it’s a highlight of his career.
“The joy I get from helping the athletes, their parents, is very rewarding,” he said. “Being chosen to do the Final Leg is one of the biggest honors of my 17 years (in law enforcement).
“Law enforcement is Special Olympics’ biggest fundraiser,” Solis noted, pointing to a figure of $58 million raised globally from law enforcement efforts, and the proceeds go to Special Olympics around the world.
“Abu Dhabi’s never had a Special Olympics program,” he said.
Sanchez is also participating in a “polar plunge” in which he and his team of eight participants, wearing basketball jerseys to show where they’re from will jump into a pool filled with ice in another fundraising project.
Sanchez said he’d more than appreciate any pledges or donations to his Abu Dhabi adventure; his link may be found on the sonm.org site.