Local law enforcement officers andfire fighters turned out on Merced County streets Wednesday morning to help support athletes facing special challenges.
The annual Law Enforcement Torch Run partners officers with Special Olympics athletes for a run that covers more than 14 miles of Merced County.
Dozens of runners signed up to help raise money for the Special Olympics, said Merced police Officer Krista Stokes. The 2016 Special Olympics Northern California Summer Games will draw about 1,000 athletes and their coaches to UC Davis for events that begin June 24.
“It’s a huge event,” Stokes, who has participated in the Torch Run for the past five years, said in a statement.
Merced County agencies participating in Wednesday’s run included representatives of the police departments from Merced, Livingston and Atwater; the SWAT team; Merced City Fire; the Probation Department; the California Highway Patrol; CalFire; Sheriff’s Office; UC Merced; and U.S. Penitentiary Atwater.
“We’ve been training the last couple months for this run,” said Merced police Officer Emily Foster, who participated in the run for the first time, according to a Merced city statement.
“We’ve been doing a lot of distance running. We go downtown, along the creek, everywhere to train,” Foster said. “This is such a great cause.”
Across Northern California, the Torch Run is expected to draw more than 3,000 law enforcement personnel from local, county, state, federal and military agencies. It has participants in all 50 states and 46 countries and is expected to raise more than $34 million a year.
On April 7, the UC Merced Police Department partnered with Save Mart in Merced and raised $1,428 for Special Olympics of Northern California.
“Every $100 lets three athletes compete,” Stokes said. “It’s an amazing program.”
The run began in Wichita, Kan., in 1981 when the local police chief decided to involve the law enforcement community with Special Olympics to help raise funds and awareness of the program.