Hundreds of officers from multiple agencies – including the San Diego Police Department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and more – traded their uniforms for gyms clothes Tuesday for the annual Law Enforcement Special Olympics Torch Run.
The Special Olympics torch was lit at 9:30 a.m. in front of the Chula Vista Police Department. The torch will travel to Camp Pendleton and into Orange County before arriving at the University of Southern California, where the Games will take place beginning June 6.
Last year, the local torch run raised nearly $80,000, according to Karen Terra, Regional Director of Special Olympics San Diego. Terra said Special Olympic athletes compete at no cost to them.
“We don’t charge our athletes to participate in our program. It covers equipment and uniforms and transportation, anything that goes along with participating in our program,” she said.
The officers raise money through personal fundraising websites.
“It gives us athletes an opportunity, many opportunities, to develop courage, to show everyone what we can do, not just in competition, but in all parts of life,” athlete Erik Weber said.
The torch run also creates friendly competition among the officers. The SDPD division with the most runners will win a “Captain’s Award” trophy, according to Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.
Besides raising money for the Special Olympics, the event is also meant to bring law enforcement and the special needs community together.
“In their day to day, they’re not greeted with smiles and high fives because they usually show up when something bad has happened. For them to be part of this community where they’re greeted with high fives and hugs by the athletes, so it’s rewarding for both sides,” Terra said.
A man named Mike watched as the torch run ran past Tuesday. Mike, who has autism, is interning at SDPD and hopes to become the department’s first autistic police officer.
“This is about as much of a blessing as you can imagine,” he said, talking about the opportunities he has had.
After leaving Chula Vista, the torch stopped at San Diego police headquarters and ended the day in the Torrey Pines area. The run will resume Wednesday morning.
NBC 7 weekend morning anchors Greg Bledsoe and Megan Tevrizian joined SDPD’s Western Division for its leg of the race.