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Police Carry Special Olympics' 'Flame of Hope'

Police Carry Special Olympics' 'Flame of Hope'

June 03, 2011

LAGUNA BEACH – Though a coastal breeze temporarily blew the torch out, local police, fire and marine safety officers didn’t falter as they ran to herald in the Special Olympics.

About 20 Laguna Beach officers escorted the “Flame of Hope” along Pacific Coast Highway Thursday morning before handing off to Newport Beach police and firefighters. After starting its journey at the U.S.-Mexico border on Tuesday, the torch is traveling through Orange County Thursday and Friday as part of the southern leg of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run.

On June 10, the southern leg’s torch will come back through O.C. before joining with two other torches at the opening ceremony of Special Olympics Southern California’s summer games in Long Beach.

The run began in 1981 with a police department in Kansas. Their first torch relay raised no money and included only six officers. Now, 100 torch runs in 35 countries support different chapters of the Special Olympics. Raising millions of dollars, the run is the largest-grass roots fundraiser for the organization.

Orange County agencies have taken part in the torch run for about 15 years, said regional director Deputy Chief Jeff Noble of the Irvine Police Department. Almost every agency in the county gets involved, and hundreds of officers participate every year.

“The torch run is really designed to raise awareness,” Noble said.

Throughout the year, agencies fundraise for the Special Olympics with events like Tip-A-Cop, where officers serve at restaurants alongside wait staff. Last year, Noble said law enforcement donated almost $1 million to Special Olympics Southern California.

In Laguna Beach, most of the runners also participated last year.

“We’ve always had a good turn out,” Police Chief Paul Workman said.

Officers average about a nine-minute mile, with Laguna Beach’s stretch spanning five miles. Along the way, passing cars honked their support, business owners stepped outside to wave and one bicyclist threw up a hang loose gesture. Since it began, the event has been popular with locals as well as officers, said Rebecca Walke of Special Olympics Southern California.

“I think it’s good for the community to see their law enforcement taking part in something positive,” said Walke, who manages the torch run for the region.

Laguna Beach Fire engineer and paramedic Chip Gilmore ran before his shift at the fire station. He said he’d typically work out in the morning anyway, but getting together with public safety colleagues for a cause made this run more meaningful.

“It makes it more heartfelt,” he said.

Laguna Beach Marine Safety Lt. Kai Bond said lifeguards try to participate in community events whenever they can. Just like they serve beachgoers in need, officers look to serve the community by supporting important causes.

“This is why we’re here,” he said.

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