by Jim Boyle
Investigative Sgt. Tim Jeanetta, a 23-year veteran of the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office, has witnessed the unimaginable.
Things that mess with a person’s mind, and things that — if a person is not careful — can twist their view of the world.
Jeanetta has found volunteering at and for Special Olympics events are some of the best triggers to snap a veering mind back into place.
That was true the first time he volunteered to referee a Special Olympics softball game more than 22 years ago.
It has been true over the years when he organized the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Sherburne County Sheriff Office.
It has been true during countless fundraisers that have had him plunging into chilly lake waters, waiting on tables and camping out overnight on a grocery store.
And it was just as true recently when he was the opening speaker at a Special Olympics event in Rogers when the stars of the event came up to him afterward to thank him and shake his hand.
Jeanetta was chosen to represent the state of Minnesota in the 2017 Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg Team for the Special Olympics World Games, which will take place March 7-20 in Austria.
The 1984 Elk River High School graduate leaves Tuesday, and once in Austria, he will join others in running through 32 towns spanning 800 miles while carrying the Flame of Hope. He will be joined by police officers from throughout the world. His team of 10 alone will have officers from Illinois, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy. These runners will conclude 10 days of running by taking a polar plunge in Niederoblarn, Austria.
The law enforcement final leg team will not only be running for 10 days but also shouldering the relentless mission of spreading the Special Olympics movement and amplifying the excitement for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games.
Jeanetta, humbled the invitation to be the only Minnesotan on this mission, has been unwittingly preparing for this assignment for more than two decades.
“You see these innocent athletes have a blast at everything they do,” he said. “It’s not about winning. It’s about helping each other up when someone falls down.
“The selflessness that these athletes show is amazing. This is how we should all act. This is what life is all about.”
Jeanetta, who was born in Duluth and has lived in Elk River ever since his family moved when he was 4 years old, started volunteering his time with the Special Olympics when he was asked by former Sheriff Bruce Anderson to be an umpire for a Special Olympics softball tournament in 1995.
After that, he started coordinating the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run for Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office. Every year since, he would get the local law enforcement agencies together and run the Flame of Hope from the west Sherburne County border in St. Cloud to the east Sherburne County border in Ramsey.
Sometimes he lined up 50 people to run. Other times he rounded up far fewer, and more of the torch-bearing responsibility fell to him. Where there were not runners to carry the torch, he was there to pick up and get it to the next leg that did. He often got the torch back several times.
“Those were tough days,” Jeanetta recalls, noting that at times he would log nearly 30 miles on his sneakers before the final hand off in Ramsey.
Also over the years, Jeanetta has volunteered for several different fundraising efforts for the Special Olympics, such as Tip-a-Cop, polar plunges and Cop-on-Top, where Jeanetta stayed in a tent on top of the Rainbow Foods store in Plymouth for a weekend to raise money for the Special Olympics.
He’s also a youth hockey coach and board member and a youth baseball coach in Elk River where he’s raising 13-year-old twins, one boy and one girl. He purposefully brings them along at times for his volunteering gigs.
“I have a good life,” Jeanetta said, “and I want to give back. To see these kids, these special Olympians, and I say this is what it’s all about.”
In June 2016, Jeanetta received a call from a board member of the Minnesota Special Olympics asking if he would be willing to represent the state of Minnesota in the Austrian world games. Jeanetta was training at a track in Becker where he prepares for various 5Ks, 10Ks, triathlons, marathons and other events when he got the call. He was informed the two-week trip would be covered by the United States Special Olympics as a way of saying thanks for all he has done.
While battling questions in his own mind about what makes him worthy of such an honor, he agreed to check with his boss, Sheriff Joel Brott, and get back to him.
Brott considered it a high honor as well and was immediately on board. He also got the support of the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners to release him of his duties for two weeks.
Jeanetta’s commitment to the cause coupled with the longevity of his commitment to it and the community helped him stand out among the other qualified candidates.
“His commitment has been consistent even though his other roles through his work and his family life have changed and become more demanding,” said Jennifer Fordham, a Mendota Heights Police officer and member of the state’s Torch Run executive council that picks who will run in the international games every two years. “He is a person of integrity and spreads the message of Special Olympics in all that he does.”
The Torch Run group helps raise awareness of Special Olympics and promotes acceptance and inclusion for all people. It has raised more than $1 million a year for Special Olympics for each of the last several years.
Jeanetta has set up a website for anyone who would like to donate to the Special Olympics. For more information and to donate, visit http://bit.ly/2mgsHfi.
For more information on the Games, check out http://www.austria2017.org/en/home.
“We are proud and honored to have him representing law enforcement from the State of Minnesota and the United States at this global event.”
The 2017 World Games is expected to draw more than 3,000 athletes, 1,100 trainers, 3,000 volunteers and 5,000 family members, among others.
Among the games athletes will participating in are figure skating, speed skating, floor hockey, snowshoeing, Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snowboarding and stick shooting.
The opening ceremony will be on March 18. That’s when the torch will be lit.
“I can’t imagine what it will be like to have all those athletes look up at us,” Jeanetta said.
Just having these kids come up to Jeanetta in Rogers, shake his hand and say thank you was exhilarating.
“The feeling it sends through you is unbelievable,” Jeanetta said.