Cheered on by hundreds of students at Varnell and Beaverdale elementary schools, 17 participants in the annual Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Special Olympics Torch Run joined forces to raise funds for the statewide organization.
Runners from the Sheriff’s Office, Whitfield County Fire Department, and Department of Juvenile Justice (District 1) began their journey on the morning of May 15 from the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Training Center and Firing Range on Old Prater’s Mill Road, then passed through the student- and teacher-lined parking lots at the two elementary schools on their nearly 10-mile journey to the Murray County line.
Law enforcement officers from across the state participated in 11 legs of the 1,000-mile, two-week torch relay, which all converged at Emory University in Atlanta for the State Summer Games Opening Ceremony on the morning of May 18. Officers entered the Opening Ceremony with the Olympic Torch – the Flame of Hope. The Torch was passed to a Special Olympics athlete who lit the Olympic cauldron signifying “Let the games begin!”
Nearly 3,000 State Summer Games athletes, coaches and unified partners from across Georgia - cheered on by 2,800 volunteers and 500 family members - participated May 17-19 in aquatics, athletics (track and field), flag football, gymnastics, soccer, table tennis, tennis, volleyball, and long distance running/walking at Emory University, with medals and ribbons awarded throughout.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run is the largest annual fundraising event benefiting Special Olympics Georgia. This signature event plays a significant role in Special Olympics Georgia’s annual budget.
The event dates back to 1981 when Wichita, Kan., Police Chief Richard LaMunyon saw an urgent need to raise funds for and increase awareness of Special Olympics.
The idea for the Torch Run was to provide local law enforcement officers with an opportunity to volunteer with Special Olympics in the communities where the officers lived and worked. After three years of successful runs in Kansas, Chief LaMunyon presented his idea to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which endorsed Special Olympics as its official charity through the Torch Run. Today, all 50 states and more than 40 countries have their own versions of the Torch Run.
In Georgia, the first Torch Run was organized in 1986 and has grown into the largest fundraising effort of Special Olympics Georgia. The Torch Run has continued to reach new records in fundraising efforts each year. Along with being the premier fundraising event for SOGA, it is also the most visible event in Special Olympics.
Lt. Wayne Mathis of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office is the only person in Georgia to have run in all 32 Torch Runs, and his history goes back even further as he took part three times before that in a Special Olympics event sponsored by Sam’s Club.
The mission of Special Olympics Georgia is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.