For Special Olympics: Two Watertown Police to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

Members of the Watertown Area Association for Special Citizens Joe McGrail (back, left), Chris McGrail, James Stango, Tim Arnold, Steve Stango, Theresa Stango; (middle) WAASC Founder Rocco Calabrese,  Matthew Shea, Courtney Diorio, Jessica Kasidas and Sean Tobin helped raise money for Watertown Deputy Police Chief Josh Bernegger (front) and Lt. Tim Gavallas who are looking to help raise $150,000 for the Special Olympics by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

WATERTOWN — Police Deputy Chief Josh Bernegger and Lt. Tim Gavallas will be joining 11 other police officers to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in February next year to raise money for the Connecticut Special Olympics. Located in Tanzania, Mt. Kilimanjaro is more than 19,000 feet tall, making it the tallest mountain on the African Continent.

Their journey on the snow-capped mountain will take a total of seven days. The first five days will entail hiking up the mountain and setting up camp, and the last two will be the trek down.

The idea for climbing the mountain to raise money for the Special Olympics was proposed by Officer Dave Maliar of Cheshire during this year’s Law Enforcement Torch Run for the organization.

The proposal caught the attention of Lt. Gavallas and Deputy Chief Bernegger who signed up to represent the local police department.

Joining Deputy Chief Bernegger and Lt. Gavallas will be Lt. Mike Durkee, Tari Marshall-Day and Ofc. Maliar of Cheshire; Lt. Tim Bernier and Laurie Harder of Guilford; Detective Tom McGarvey of Naugatuck, Detective Donna Brown of Putnam; Lt. Rob Kluk and Lt. Dave Hartman of Wilton; and Sgt. Ralph Fiasco, Jr. and Sgt. Mandy Grey of New Jersey.

The team will work together to hike up the mountain and plan to raise more than $150,000 for the Special Olympics.

In the face of the challenge of hiking up the massive mountain, the two are determined to complete their goal.

“We’re going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in recognition of them,” said Deputy Chief Bernegger, who compared the challenge of climbing the mountain to those who compete in the Special Olympics.

Both Deputy Chief Bernegger and Lt. Gavallas have minor hiking experience and keep themselves in athletic physical condition. Still, the hike will be both a physical and mental challenge that will push them to the limit.

Lt. Gavallas has rappelled down the Mohegan Sun Casino building twice in fundraising efforts for the Special Olympics and looks forward to another challenge to raise money for the organization.

The two plan to train together in the coming weeks using local hiking trials and trips to other mountains in the region as they prepare for their hike.

While the hike up Kilimanjaro will require equipment and camping supplies, the climb does not require the intense equipment required for climbing a mountain like Everest.

“We look forward to representing the Connecticut Special Olympics,” said Deputy Chief Bernegger.

“It is such an awesome organization,” added Lt. Gavallas

When the hiking group reaches the mountain’s summit, they plan to raise the Special Olympics flag and pose for a photo, commemorating their achievement.

Both officers need to raise a total of $20,000 to qualify for the trip. 

So far between the two they have raised about $10,000.

Those seeking to support Lt. Gavallas and Deputy Chief Bernegger can visit https://www.classy.org/campaign/2020-conquering-kilimanjaro/c224003 or drop off a check at the Watertown Police Station at 195 French St. 

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