Public safety agencies from every corner of Merced County joined forces once again Wednesday morning for theLaw Enforcement Torch Run, an annual tradition geared toward supporting Special Olympics.
As it had in previous years, the runners’ journey began 7 a.m. in UC Merced’s parking lot, and the procession made stops at the Merced Police Department, the California Highway Patrol’s Merced Area Office and the Atwater Police Department before reaching their final destination, the Livingston Police Department. Along the way the runners carried the Special Olympics “Flame of Hope” as supporters and residents cheered them on. The torch will now be carried by public safety agencies in other counties as it makes its way to UC Davis, where the Northern California Special Olympics 2018 Summer Games is scheduled to happen June 22-24
There were some familiar faces leading the procession, including Mark Heffner, 36, a Special Olympics gold medalist who has been active in the competition for years. Among Heffner’s many accomplishments is winning the gold medal while competing in golf during the Special Olympics in Beijing, China, in 2008.
The mission of the Northern California Special Olympics, according to the organization’s website, is to “provide athletic opportunities to children and adults with intellectual disabilities, instilling the confidence they need to succeed in life.”
The run began in 1981 when Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon saw a need to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympic, according to the Special Olympics of Northern California’s website. He thought of the Torch Run as a way to involve local law enforcement with their communities and Special Olympics, by running the torch in intrastate relays that come together at their local Summer Games.
Law enforcement agencies nationally and many countries participate in the Torch Run, generating millions of dollars annually for Special Olympics programs globally.