Participants in the 2006 Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics take off on Willow Street in Kenai on Saturday. The 5-K loop through the city was open for runners, joggers, cyclists and walkers.
Photo by John Hult
Community-minded runners, joggers, cyclists and walkers took to the streets of Kenai on Saturday to cover a five kilometer circle through the city for the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics.
The which, pairs Special Olympics Alaska with local law enforcement, saw a few dozen participants loop from the Kenai Police Department on Willow Street up Main Street and around the city on a 3.1 mile trek. The run matched similar events throughout the state.
For Kenai, as in the other Alaska communities sponsoring the event, participants donated $15 for a single registration, $25 for registration with a T-shirt or gathered funds pledged by friends, family or acquaintances in the weeks prior to the event. The donations go directly to support the area’s Special Olympics program. This year, however, is the second in as many years there is a local coordinator for those programs to help allocate the collected funds.
“They said, ‘We need somebody to do this, they’re not getting what they need,’ so I stepped up,” said Stephanie Crosby, the Kenai and Soldotna area coordinator for the Special Olympics.
The event, as organized by volunteers and the Kenai Police Department, has a long history in Kenai, though neither Crosby nor KPD’s organizer, Casey Hershberger, could say exactly how long that history was. The difference now is that the funds go to an expanding program.
Special Olympics athletes in the area participate in certain events at two statewide tournaments per year: bowling in the fall; aquatics and basketball in the summer. Crosby said the group plans to add a snowshoeing trip this winter, as athletes began practicing this past winter and will be eligible to compete next season. Travel expenses for the tournaments add up to around $2,000 a year.
“This event today should cover all our travel expenses,” she said. Saturday’s event raised $2,363, she said.
In order to add a snowshoeing trip, cover the cost of practice space rentals and purchase uniforms and equipment, Crosby said that more community funds will be needed. The success of Saturday’s torch run was a welcome sign.
“I saw a lot of faces I haven’t seen before, which was really good,” she said.
One new-ish face was that of Will Schwenke, who returned from Iraq in February after serving more than a year with his National Guard unit. Schwenke participated in the 5-K torch run three years ago, and was happy to contribute this time around.
“This is a much better turnout than before,” Schwenke said.
Schwenke ran in Iraq’s desert climate with his unit, and he wasn’t the only runner for whom the race’s Alaska climate would be a change.
Another recent return to the central peninsula, Paul Morin, stood by with Schwenke a few moments before the start. Morin just completed his first year at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va. He said he was glad to be back in Alaska for a while, but the gray skies would make Saturday’s run a much different experience.
“It would be a bit warmer there,” Morin said.
Still others brought along their families for the fun run. Becky Foster and her daughter Stacy were ready to run and walk the distance in advance of their participation in Relay For Life, a cancer survivor’s event that will see participants walk in shifts through the evening of June 2 into the afternoon of June 3 at Skyview High School.
“I’m just kind of getting back into that community donation mind-set,” Becky said. “It’s just a fun event to support the community.”
The community spirit-building aspect of the torch run was an appeal for Hershberger, a lifelong area resident who will log his fourth year as a Kenai Police Department officer later this year. Hershberger’s name is listed as the official contact in the torch run promotional brochures used statewide, but he said the entire department gets a kick out it.
“Obviously, we’re the police force and we’re supposed to help out however we can, but we don’t often have an opportunity to work closely with the Special Olympics athletes,” Hershberger said. “We are proud of being able raise money for those guys.”
The event also gives KPD a chance to showcase their officers’ more human side. Hershberger was on duty Saturday, which precluded his participation in the run, but many officers did don race gear for the jog through town.
“I wear this uniform 40 hours a week but it’s not what I do all the time,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to get out here and talk to people and they can say, ‘Hey, this guy has a family just like I do, he puts his pants on one leg at a time, ...’ We like to be able to interact with people besides just pulling people over and writing them traffic tickets.”
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