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June 15, 2012 > Carrying the torch for Special Olympics

Carrying the torch for Special Olympics

By Julie Grabowski

London, England, will not be the only site of Olympic struggle and triumph this summer; hopes, heart, and determination will be beating just as strong at the Special Olympics Northern California Summer Games in Davis.

Special Olympics Northern California is a free, year-round program that provides athletic opportunities in 12 sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The program offers character and confidence building through training and competition with a focus on sportsmanship, volunteerism, and acceptance of all people.

The first seeds for Special Olympics were planted in the early 1960s by Eunice Kennedy Shriver when she hosted a day camp for those with intellectual disabilities at her home in Rockville, Maryland. That simple day inspired hearts and minds and grew across states, resulting in the first International Special Olympic Games in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago, uniting over 1,000 athletes from 26 states and neighboring Canada.

Special Olympics now has chapters in every state in the country as well as in over 150 countries around the world, with over three million participating athletes. The Northern California chapter was begun in 1995 and covers from the Oregon border to Monterey and Tulare counties. More than 15,700 athletes from 175 schools compete in 154 competitions throughout the region, with the support of 14,370 volunteers and volunteer coaches. Financial support for Special Olympics is due almost entirely to contributions from individuals, organizations, corporations, and foundations.

Law enforcement has long been a supporter of Special Olympics, raising funds and public awareness with various city agencies helping out each year by taking part in the Law Enforcement Torch Run. The Torch Run is a year-round, world-wide fundraising campaign that raises millions of dollars each year ($42 million last year alone) through a variety of activities in order to sponsor athletes and send them to regional, national, and international games. The Fremont Police Department is just one of the many doing their part, raising over $8,000 from events such as Tip-a-Cop fundraisers held at Claim Jumper's, Chili's, and Strizzi's restaurants.
The department is looking to hold another event at the Elephant Bar in July.
Approximately 3,000 officers will be carrying the Flame of Hope when it begins its journey north throughout our local communities, bearing it to its home at the Opening Ceremonies of the Special Olympics Northern California Summer Games at the University of California, Davis. The Newark Police Department receives the Torch from Milpitas on Friday, June 15, where it sleeps over the weekend before resuming its journey on Monday, June 18.

Fremont PD has about 10 runners each year, and partners with the Newark PD to "create a greater spectacle of ourselves" according to Fremont PD Captain Clarise Lew. The Torch will be carried along a four-mile course beginning at the Newark Police Department (37101 Newark Boulevard) at 7:15 a.m., moving down Thornton Avenue into the City of Fremont, up Paseo Padre Parkway to Decoto Road, where the torch will be passed to the Union City Police Department at Alameda Creek Parking Lot.

"The Torch Run itself is really about awareness," says Lew. "The greater spectacle we can create, the better." She emphasizes that it is not a race, but a run, and that they try to run as slow as possible, due to the fact that the longer they are out there, the more people will see and learn about Special Olympics. Runners will be accompanied by escort vehicles and banners for Special Olympics, unable to escape notice.

Aside from fundraising, part of what the Fremont PD does is interact with the athletes. Lew says they have Special Olympic athletes at their fundraising events, have them walk or run alongside officers in the Torch Run, and officers attend the athletes' events and present them with medals. "You really get to see the fruits of your labors," says Lew of the involvement. "It really does make a difference in people's lives."

Union City PD will handoff to Hayward PD at the Pep Boys parking lot around 9:30 a.m., BART PD will take the Torch at the Hayward Police Department and pass to ACSO at Castro Valley BART Station at 11:15 a.m. The Torch then transfers to San Leandro PD at Chili's parking lot, moves to BART PD at the San Leandro BART Station, and around 2:30 p.m. is handed off to Oakland PD and DA's office at Jack London Square. The Torch continues through Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, Pinole, Hercules, Benicia, Fairfield, Vacaville, and Dixon, ending at Davis on June 21.

Come out and cheer the officers on their way and support Special Olympics!

The Special Olympics Northern California Summer Games will be held at U.C. Davis June 22 - 24 and admittance to all events is free. For more information, or to make a donation to the Special Olympics, contact Captain Clarise Lew at (510) 790-6989 or clew@ci.fremont.ca.us. To learn more about Special Olympics Northern California, visit www.sonc.org.

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