Group to ‘Conquer Kilimanjaro’ for Special Olympics

Watertown Deputy Police Chief Josh Bernegger, right, and his father, Rudy Bernegger, center, talk with Special Olympics Connecticut Director of Special Events Jackie Turro during a send-off event Monday at The Station Restaurant in Naugatuck to celebrate a 12-person crew that will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania next week to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics Connecticut. The group includes police officers from Connecticut and New Jersey. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — A dozen people — 11 police officers and one civilian — will travel to Africa on Sunday to “Conquer Kilimanjaro.”

Specifically, the group is headed to Tanzania, where they’ll climb all 19,341 feet of Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics Connecticut.

“I’m pumped. We are all pumped. It’s been a solid year of fundraising and preparation and training, and we’re ready to roll,” said Watertown Deputy Police Chief Josh Bernegger during a send-off party Monday night. “We’re thrilled to be representing the Special Olympics in Connecticut and bringing the (Special Olympics) flag to the top of Africa’s highest mountain.”

Members of the group hosted events to raise money over the past year and also collected donations online. All of the proceeds raised from the Conquer Kilimanjaro campaign will benefit programs for the more than 12,000 athletes involved in Special Olympics Connecticut. As of Monday, the Conquer Kilimanjaro crew had raised $150,500. The goal was $150,000.

“I think the fact that we exceeded our fundraising goal is kind of like the motivation to get us out there and get up there,” Naugatuck Det. Tom McGarvey said.

Cheshire police Officer Dave Maliar came up with the idea for the campaign last year, according to Jackie Turro, senior director of special events for Special Olympics Connecticut.

“None of us thought it would be this successful,” she said.

The 12-person crew will take a flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Sunday to Tanzania. The group will spend a day and half preparing before making the four-day climb up the mountain and the two-day trip back down. The group will return home on Feb. 28.

McGarvey and Bernegger have done their share of mountain climbing. Bernegger is a self-described “weekend warrior” when it comes to mountain climbing, including the Appalachian Mountains in the states and the Alps in Switzerland. McGarvey has climbed mountains throughout the Northeast, including Mt. Washington in New Hampshire

Mt. Kilimanjaro poses a large challenge. With just over a week before the group starts the climb, McGarvey said his emotions are running the gamut.

“I think we’re all feeling the same thing,” McGarvey said. “We’re all in this together. We’ve got a great group of guys and girls, so it’s going to be good.”

“Nineteen thousand feet, you’re on top of the world,” he added. “That’s an experience in itself, so it’s going to be good.”

Along with Maliar, McGarvey and Bernegger, the group includes Lt. Mike Durkee of the Cheshire Police Department, Lt. Tim Bernier of the Guilford Police Department, Laurie Harder of Guilford, Det. Donna Brown of the Putnam Police Department, Lt. Tim Gavallas of the Watertown Police Department, Lt. Rob Kluk and Lt. Dave Hartman of the Wilton Police Department, and Sgt. Ralph Fiasco Jr. and Sgt. Mandy Grey of New Jersey.

To donate to the Conquer Kilimanjaro campaign, visit