Special Olympics Maine has inducted a Waldoboro police officer into the organization’s hall of fame and honored him with its most prestigious award for his work on behalf of athletes.
Larry Hesseltine received the Bob Bell Award and was inducted into the Peter MacVane Hall of Fame during the annual kickoff conference for the Law Enforcement Torch Run in Portland on March 24.
The hall-of-fame plaque reads: “Your dedication to the run and to improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities has gone above and beyond the call of duty. On behalf of over 4,000 Special Olympics Maine athletes, thank you for caring and sharing.”
Hesseltine is the founder of the Torch Ride, an annual motorcycle ride for Special Olympics Maine. He worked with the Knox County chapter of the United Bikers of Maine to start the ride in 2010. Six years later, the ride has raised almost $60,000.
Hesseltine also participates in the Torch Run and sits on the executive council of Special Olympics Maine.
He could not speak at the awards ceremony.
“I was pretty emotional,” he said. “I’m pretty emotional when it comes to Special Olympics anyway.”
For most of his career, Hesseltine’s involvement with Special Olympics “was basically raising a few bucks and running a few miles” in the Torch Run, he said.
Six years ago, Hesseltine was working for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office as the resident deputy for the island community of Vinalhaven.
He represented the agency at the 2010 conference, where he saw a presentation on the Dream Ride, a major fundraiser for Special Olympics. The presentation encouraged officers to spend time with the athletes.
The presentation inspired Hesseltine to organize the first Torch Ride.
A number of athletes participated. One of those athletes still calls Hesseltine every week, and his story of triumph over bullying and fear helps motivate Hesseltine’s work.
“When he first moved into his own apartment in Camden, he was nervous because there were some kids in the neighborhood who would bang on his door” and run off, according to Hesseltine.
The man would sit up against the door with a tennis racket and wait for the boys to come harass him and leave again.
These days, he does not cower by the door anymore.
“He told (Torch Run Director) Lisa Bird he wasn’t afraid anymore – he wasn’t afraid of those boys in the neighborhood because I was his friend,” Hesseltine said.
Now, Hesseltine stresses the importance of interaction with athletes to his fellow officers.
“I always speak at the conference and one of the things I try to get across to people is, don’t be like I was for those first 20 years in law enforcement,” he said.
“Everybody can say they know an athlete, they know somebody who has some intellectual disabilities, but how many people can say somebody with intellectual disabilities knows them?” Hesseltine said. “Until you experience that, you’re not getting the full reward of what you’re doing.”
The Bob Bell Award bears the name of the late Bridgton police chief responsible for bringing the Torch Run to Maine.
The Peter MacVane Hall of Fame honors the memory of a longtime South Portland police officer and Special Olympics Maine volunteer. After his death from cancer in 2012 at the age of 61, the organization renamed the hall of fame in his honor.
Hesseltine knew MacVane through Special Olympics.
“That award itself means a lot to me, knowing Peter MacVane and knowing what Peter MacVane believed in,” Hesseltine said.
Hesseltine, 49, started his career in law enforcement with the Lincoln Police Department in 1988. He joined the Knox County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy in 1999 and worked his way up to sergeant and lieutenant.
He left the sheriff’s office in 2006 for a stint in Iraq as a civilian contractor training Iraqi police. The next year, he returned to the sheriff’s office for the job on Vinalhaven.
“Out of all my years in law enforcement, one of my best assignments was the island of Vinalhaven,” Hesseltine said. “I didn’t know what community policing was until I went to Vinalhaven and actually lived in the community that I was policing.”
The experience “showed me the value, the importance, of community policing,” he said.
In 2013, the mother of his children died of cancer. He moved back to the mainland to live with his children and started work in Waldoboro in fall 2013. He lives in Washington with his wife, Amanda Hesseltine, and his three children.
In Waldoboro, he works the day shift during the week and instructs the D.A.R.E. program at Miller Elementary School.
“I enjoy being around kids,” Hesseltine said, and he knows some might encounter police in difficult circumstances – such as in their home responding to a domestic disturbance, which could end with a parent under arrest.
“It’s good to interact with kids in a positive light so they don’t always see the negative only,” Hesseltine said.
An avid biker, Hesseltine rides a 2013 Harley-Davidson Road Glide. He is the vice president of the Central Maine chapter of the Defenders Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, which organizes the annual Talon Harwood Memorial Ride to benefit LifeFlight.
This year, Talon’s Ride and the Torch Ride will join forces to create one event – the Freedom Rally – at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston on July 16.
In addition to a motorcycle run, the Freedom Rally will include a bike and car show and a “lovely ladies” bike and car wash, a lobster bake courtesy of Waldoboro restaurateur Jeff Hurd, kids’ activities, vendors, and an indoor concert by the disco tribute band Motor Booty Affair from 8-11 p.m.
The event will raise money for LifeFlight, Special Olympics Maine, and the Travis Mills Foundation.
For more information about the Freedom Rally, go to facebook.com/freedomrally2016.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run will take place June 8. For more information, go to somaine.org.