It only takes a spark to ignite a flame.
Each year, law enforcement officers throughout Pinellas County hope to be that spark, lighting the flame atop the ceremonial torch that they use to shine a light of awareness on a community often cast in the shadows.
For more than 25 years, Pinellas County has hosted the Law Enforcement Torch Run to raise awareness for the Special Olympics and to bring attention to the many sports programs available for the intellectually disabled.
The Torch Run was created in 1982 in Wichita, Kansas, to keep law enforcement active in the community and support Special Olympics Kansas. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) first endorsed the Torch Run in 1983. Today, it is the largest public awareness and fundraising group for the Special Olympics, with more than 97,000 law enforcement members nationwide participating annually.
Throughout March, April, and May, Florida law enforcement agencies will host 70 Torch Run events, including runs in Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee, and of course, Pinellas counties.
Before the sun rises Wednesday, April 25th, sworn personnel, staff, and community supporters accompanied by Special Olympics athletes will gather at the St. Petersburg Police Department to light the torch, which they will pass from agency to agency in six relay race legs spanning Pinellas County.
This year’s participating agencies include the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Highway Patrol, and police departments from Belleair, Clearwater, Kenneth City, Largo, Pinellas Park, and Tarpon Springs.
Participants run and bike a combined total of more than 20 miles, stopping at various law enforcement buildings, public parks, and special needs schools, where they are greeted by booming music, rejuvenating snacks, and crowds of supporters holding motivational signs and banners.
In addition to the community awareness and sense of law enforcement unity and support, the Torch Run raises money through merchandise sales. Last year, the Pinellas County event raised almost $10,000, which benefited Pinellas County Special Olympics athletes participating in the annual state summer games.
This year, you can purchase sizes small-3XL performance shirts for $20, cotton t-shirts for $15, and one-size-fits-all baseball caps for $10.
Before the final stop at Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center, the very people for whom participants are racing will meet them down the road to join them in the last few steps before they cross the finish line, hand in hand.
For more information or to purchase Torch Run apparel, contact the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Public Relations Bureau at 727-582-6221.
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