TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka Police Det. Kristi Powell is inspired by the elements, especially the hot fire of the Special Olympics torch and the freezing water of the organization's signature fundraiser, the Polar Plunge.
In her nearly two decades of wearing the badge, Powell has also tirelessly advocated on behalf of Kansans who aspire to new heights in Special Olympics. Her double journey began with a phone call in 1999, which was her second year on the job at TPD. She had no idea where that phone call would eventually lead.
"The social worker was like, oh, wow they sent you," Powell recalls. "The individual I as going to be talking with was much bigger and much stronger than me. Somehow we made it work and we ended up sitting on a curb and having a conversation with what was upsetting him."
That social worker soon called Kristi again. This time, it was to ask her if she was interested in sports.
"I love sports," Powell said of her invitation to a track practice for Special Olympics athletes.
From there, she was hooked. A decade and a half later, her devotion to the cause in the new millenium was rewarded.
"(I) was lucky enough to represent Kansas law enforcement (at the World games) running with the Flame of Hope, which is what they call the Special Olympic flame," she said. "Law enforcement, we are guardians of that flame. I've had teammates from all different parts of the world on my team. We had some communication issues at times but it all worked out."
Powell says yes, it is real fire coming out of those torches and yes, it does get heavy.
"It does get heavy, especially when you're holding it up in the position that it needs to be held, so you hold it with the respect it deserves," she said.
It's clear Powell's involvement has touched the athletes. Bekah Henderson is among Powell's biggest fans.
"I gave, my mom and dad, we gave her a torch that we received from the torch bearer (event) here in Topeka," Bekah said. "We gave it to her because she didn't get a torch in LA, only the athletes did, so we gave her our torch and she, she had happy tears. I had happy tears.
"She makes me smile whenever I see her and she always has those warm smiles whenever she sees all of us athletes in Kansas," Bekah said.
Powell says she's honored to be featured in 13 NEWS Salute the Badge, but mainly because it's another opportunity to shine the spotlight on the athletes of whom she's so proud.
"There's been times when I've been praised for some of my involvement with Special Olympics, but, truly, I've been given so much more. My life's been changed," Powell said. "It's just hugs and smiles. Sometimes, in this line of work, you don't get a lot of those but I get 'em every time I go to a Special Olympics event."
Special Olympics Polar Plunge season is right around the corner in northeast Kansas! The Topeka event is February 4 at the Lake Shawnee Swim Beach. The event also includes a 5k Polar Strut run/walk. You can sign up and find other area plunges at www.plungeks.org.