A show of support: Torch Run boosts awarenss for Special Olympics

Posted: Sunday, May 16, 2010

The path wasn't always obvious on Saturday morning.

Photo By Andrew Waite
Photo By Andrew Waite
Chuck crosses the finish line at the 2010 Alaska Law Enforcement Torch Run and Pledge Drive in Kenai on Saturday morning. Kenai was one of 13 Alaska communities to hold a benefit for the Special Olympics Saturday. Kenai's run raised about $3,600.

At times, the 2010 Alaska Law Enforcement Torch Run and Pledge Drive benefitting Special Olympics Alaska felt like a lazy stroll through Kenai. A few cones topped with thin red arrows pointed the way, but the 5-kilometer course wasn't roped off or barricaded from traffic.

Maybe that was a good thing.

As Bob, Roger and Molly -- three of about 50 central peninsula Special Olympians -- crossed the Main Street Loop at one point during the race, a black Chevy truck had to stop and watch them trod passed. The woman in the passenger seat smiled at the athletes and turned her head to look a second longer before the vehicle sped off toward town.

And with that, part of the torch run's goal was accomplished.

"The importance of the run is to create that public awareness for Special Olympics," Jim Balamaci, Special Olympics Alaska's President and CEO, said.

Saturday's event in Kenai was one of 13 fundraising torch runs happening simultaneously across Alaska on Saturday. Kenai's effort raised about $3,600 for Special Olympics, down from about $5,000 in 2009. Balamaci expected to raise about $100,000 statewide with about 1,000 participants. About 65 pledgers took part in Kenai on Saturday. The money raised by the event stays local.

Law enforcement agencies participate in the torch run festivities to bolster the desired public awareness, according to Alex Douthit, a Kenai Police Department officer who started the race.

"It's a good way to get us involved in the community and help draw attention to it. There are many people in our town that need these kinds of programs and this is to show our support," Douthit said. "When the lights are flashing, it gets the rubbernecking going."

Kenai's Special Olympics point person, Christina Fowler, said the athletes benefit greatly by being involved.

"The torch run simulates when the athletes participate in the Olympics," Fowler said. "It's supposed to instill that pride and self-esteem in the athletes that will carry them through life."

That pride and self-esteem was apparent in Special Olympians like Virginia. She wore hot pink sneakers and wouldn't let anyone walk by her without asking his or her name.

Then Virginia would decide whether she preferred the person's full name or a nickname. She decided on Daniel instead of Danny when introduced to one young man.

Virginia said Special Olympics is a major part of her life.

"It's fun," she said.

Special Olympics is an international organization that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to compete in sport.

Bob, 47, also displayed an abundance of confidence. With the numerous waves and handshakes he gave along the course, Bob could have been mistaken for a mayor.

During the walk, Roger, 40, hung back while his wife, Molly, forged on about hundred feet ahead of him.

"That's my Molly," Roger said, gazing lovingly at his spouse.

Molly and Roger have been married close to six years. Roger said he likes to cook and tidy up his home in Kenai. When Special Olympics events roll around, Roger can be found on the basketball court. Molly likes to play basketball, too.

Eventually, Roger caught up to Molly and grabbed her hand. The couple strolled along, swinging their hands in the way only lovers know how.

"You getting hungry?" Roger asked Molly. She was.

Suddenly, the finish line at the end of the makeshift racecourse was plainly in sight. Roger and Molly let go their lovers's grasp and flailed their arms in the air as they sprinted with the spirit of youth toward the start of another Olympic season.

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.

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