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'It's been a huge success.' Merced County law enforcement carries Special Olympics torch

Merced Sun-Star - 6/22/2022

Jun. 22—Law enforcement officers from throughout Merced County laced up their running shoes and hit the streets of Merced on Wednesday for the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Northern California.

Special Olympics Northern California affords both children and young adults with physical or intellectual disabilities the opportunity to participate in sports.

This year's route covered just over 3 miles as multiple law enforcement officers ran carrying the Special Olympic Torch — known as "The Flame of Hope" — through the city.

Participants started at Bob Hart Square and ran west along West Main Street to R Street, where they made a turn and ran north to West Olive Avenue.

Participants ran east along West Olive Avenue before turning onto M Street and running south to West Main Street. The participants then ran east along West Main Street before ending the run back at Bob Hart Square.

This year was the second year the shortened route began and ended in downtown Merced.. The run in prior years began at the UC Merced campus and made its way through multiple cities including Atwater before ending at the Livingston police station.

"In the beginning there were a lot of law enforcement agencies that wanted to take part in the torch run so we tried to accommodate all the cities within the county," said Jeff Godfrey, Ceres police officer and Special Olympics Northern California board member.

This led to logistical difficulties coordinating the roughly 20 mile route. After the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary stop the run, Special Olympics Northern California and Merced County law enforcement agencies looked for a way to better utilize staffing.

"So what we did is we shortened the route and we decided that we were just going to bring all of the law enforcement agencies together to run as one team, so we could utilize our staffing and our resources to the fullest of their abilities," said Godfrey.

The main purpose of the run is to raise awareness, according to Godfrey. The longer route often took runners through rural areas where fewer people observed the participants.

"So we thought it would be best to bring ourselves into the city where it's densely populated so people could actually see us running, understand why we're running and that way we could raise as much awareness for the cause as possible," he said.

Godfrey said there are over 26,000 Special Olympic athletes that live and compete in Northern California. This year Special Olympics Northern California set a fundraising goal of $285,000.

"This year we've hit it out of the park," said Godfrey. "We've exceeded $350,000 to date, so it's been a huge success."

Those funds ensure Special Olympic athletes and their families have the opportunity to participate at zero cost to themselves.

The Opening Ceremony for the Summer Games is scheduled to take place on Friday, June 24, at Santa Clara University.


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