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Torch Run Lights Way for Special Olympians
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Torch Run Director Adam Matthews readies the Special Olympics torch for Wednesday morning’s run.
   
Thursday, May 23, 2024
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Blaine County Sheriff’s Deputy Brittanee Rasmussen normally starts her day savoring her morning coffee and lifting weights.

But Wednesday morning she joined a dozen law enforcement officers from throughout the Wood River Valley to carry a five-pound Special Olympics torch made of gold metal and marble on a half-mile run down Sun Valley Road.

The relay was organized by Sun Valley Police Chief Kim Orchard, making Sun Valley one of 14 Idaho cities to participate in the Torch Run leading up to Idaho’s Special Olympics Summer Games in Caldwell June 7 and 8.

 
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Police officers run the torch along the Sun Valley Road bike path.
 

“I did it last year and thought it was for a good cause,” said Rasmussen.

The Torch Run raises awareness and funds for Special Olympics, which was started in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver as a vehicle for physical fitness, sports training and Olympic-type competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

The Torch Run itself was started in 1981 by a police officer in the Midwest and is now run in 130-plus nations.

Known as Guardians of the Flame, law enforcement members and Special Olympic athletes carry the Flame of Hope into the Opening Ceremony of local competitions and the World Games. More than 110,000 law enforcement members take part in relays carrying the Flame of Hope, which symbolizes the unity, promise and strength of athletes as it lights the way to brighter future where everyone has a way to shine.

 
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Officers took turns carrying the torch next to Special Olympic athletes.
 

Police departments also compete to see who can raise the most money for Special Olympics through the sales of shirts, raffle tickets for a truck and even tips raised alongside wait staff at restaurants.

Last year was the first Torch Run in Idaho, said Cadwell Police Sgt. Adam Matthews, the Torch Run director. The run started with seven relays, including one in Sun Valley, and doubled to 14 this year.

Matthews addressed law enforcement beforehand.

“How long is this relay?”

 
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Hailey Police Officer Morgan Ballis wears a T-shirt displaying the torch as he chats with Special Olympic athletes Mackay Majors and Kevin Sullivan.
 

“A half-mile,” replied Orchard.

“A half-mile--I like the way you think,” said Matthews. “This is a ceremonial run so run very slow. The torch leads the way.”

Several police officer ran from the end point at Festival Meadows to the starting point at Saddle Road at a brisk pace of six miles an hour. Then, joined by others, they turned around and jogged in a pack behind two Idaho State Patrolmen on motorcycles and the truck that’s being raffled off.

“Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are so we tell them. We are the Torch Run, mighty mighty Torch Run…” they chanted as they ran.

 
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Participants in the Torch Run posed for a picture in Festival Meadows.
 

Flags greeted them as they turned into Festival Meadow to the applause of Sun Valley Mayor Peter Hendricks, Council member Michelle Griffith, Sun Valley Fire Chief Taan Robrahn, firefighters Rich Bauer and Reid Black and others.

“The Olympic torch is something you always see on TV but I’ve never held one in my hand before,” said Blaine County Sheriff’s Lt. Fabrizio Lizano.

“I’m here to support a great cause and bring awareness to some very special athletes,” said Wood River School Resource Office Morgan Ballis, wearing a purple band he got the day before walking with Best Buddies, which matches students with those with developmental disabilities to bolster inclusivity.

“The Torch Run is an event that really united everyone,” he added. “It’s not about competition—it’s about the athletes and their courage, their determination…. It’s about love—how can you not support something that’s all about genuine love?!”

Special Olympics athletes Mackay Majors and Kevin Sullivan, both 19 and 6-feet-4, have traveled with other Torch Run participants throughout Idaho to take part in the relays.

They ticked off the cities: Bonners Ferry, Moscow, Lewiston, Orofino, Coeur d’Alene, McCall, Idaho Falls,  Pocatello, Twin Falls, Boise, Emmett, Nampa and Caldwell.

“We were accompanied by a K9 in one town, and the mayor and fire department in another town,” said Majors, a Boise athlete who will compete in flag football at this year’s Summer Games after having competed in snowshoeing at the Winter Olympics.

“This is my first time in Sun Valley,” said Sullivan. “Carrying the torch is fun but hard, too. You have to worry about dropping it when you pass it off to someone else.”

Seven hundred athletes from throughout the state are slated to compete in this year’s 2024 State Summer Games, which will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, June 7, and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 8.

Friday’s free event at Simplot Stadium in Caldwell, open to the public, will include an F-15 Flyover, Athlete Parade, 45 Vendor booths, Food Trucks and live music. Saturday’s competitions will include basketball, aquatics, flag football, cycling and track and field at the stadium, Caldwell High School and Caldwell YMCA.

The number of Special Olympic athletes in Idaho is growing, resurrected from seven years ago when the program was struggling, said Matthews.

Special Olympics is working to reactivate the program in Sun Valley, which hosted athletes from around the world in the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games and hosted a couple state winter games competitions in the years following.

Special Olympians not only enjoy training and the opportunity to travel around their states and even around the world for games, but they have the chance to participant in leadership and other programs which can help them find employment, said Sami Spain.

“So, it can be invaluable for these athletes,” she added.

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