In just a matter of days, 12 police officers will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, hoping to inspire athletes who inspire them.
"It's nervous excitement. Just can't wait to get the hiking boots on the ground," said Cheshire Police Officer David Maliar.
At The Station restaurant in Naugatuck, a sendoff was held for the men and women who have prepared for more than a year to tackle nearly 20,000 feet for Special Olympics Connecticut.
"The motto of the mountain is "pole, pole," which is "slowly, slowly" in Swahili, and that's going to be our motto as we go. It's one step at a time, and we'll get there," said Maliar.
Maliar came up with the idea to climb Africa's tallest mountain for SOCT, and since then he and others from Cheshire, Guilford, Naugatuck, Putnam, Watertown, Wilton, and New Jersey have raised more than $150,000 for Special Olympics.
For police departments, it's a cherished partnership because they know the difference SOCT can make for athletes.
"It gives everyone a positive experience in sports which is what's so important, to make sure the first experience you have is a good one so you keep coming back," said Jackie Turro, Senior Director of Special Events for SOCT. "Special Olympics lets people have longer, healthier, happier lives, so who's not excited about that?"
Guilford Police Lt. Tim Bernier has been involved with SOCT his entire career and says he was immediately sold on conquering Kilimanjaro because it brings even more awareness.
"People are going to hear what we're doing. They're going to want to talk to us about what we're doing. And we can utilize that to talk about Connecticut Special Olympics and how amazing our athletes are and what we're doing for them," said Bernier.
They've all been training for the tough climb and have a mission that's only completed once they reach the top.
"There will be a Connecticut Special Olympics flag at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro next week," said Bernier.
SOCT says donations help provide sports year-round for more than 13,000 athletes across the state.