Area law enforcement officers will carry the "Flame of Hope" from Pawnee County to Great Bend today, as the torch makes its way to the Special Olympics Summer Games in Wichita on Friday. Detective Heather Smith with the Great Bend Police Department invites the public to cheer for local athletes and officers, or come walk with them, around noon today.
The first leg of the 28-county torch run began Monday, and the Pawnee County runners will arrive in Great Bend late this morning. Local athletes will gather near the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo and carry the torch down Main Street to the courthouse square.
Over 650 officers from over 60 agencies will carry the torch during the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run. Officers and Special Olympic athletes will light the cauldron to officially open the 2011 Summer Games in front of over 2,400 athletes, coaches and fans of the Special Olympics.
Barton County officers will start their portion of the torch run early Thursday, Smith said. They will travel east on U.S. 56 to Lyons, then south on K-96 to Nickerson and beyond, eventually heading into Hutchinson on 56th St. Around 3 p.m. on Thursday they will meet the Stafford County and Hutchinson police officers, and travel down 30th Street ending at Ken’s Pizza.
"I’ve participated in running the torch run since high school," Smith said. She became the event’s Great Bend area coordinator in 2008.
In years past, local athletes joined Great Bend area officers on the morning of their run. But by asking them to meet the day the torch arrives, and later in the day, Smith said she hopes to increase participation and improve scheduling.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run raises awareness about Special Olympics, but it’s also a fundraiser. Smith said anyone who wants to support the event is welcome to make a donation or buy a T-shirt. She’ll have some shirts available after the group reaches the courthouse square this afternoon.
The Special Olympics Summer Games will take place over three days. Athletes will compete in cycling, power lifting, athletics, aquatics, gymnastics and tennis.
In addition to carrying the "Flame of Hope," law enforcement officers will be presenting the medals and ribbons to Special Olympics athletes at the games. The public is invited to attend the events at no charge.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run began in Wichita in 1981 with six runners and has grown to an international program that involves thousands of law enforcement personnel raising millions of dollars annually to benefit the Special Olympics programs in the United States and abroad. Officers volunteer hundreds of hours and raise more than $300,000 in support of Special Olympics Kansas programs yearly.
For more information or to make a secure donation online visit www.kansastorchrun.org. Contact Detective Smith at the Great Bend Police Department, 620-793-4120, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.