SHOUT OUT: The weather cooperated nicely as the 31th Annual Special Olympics Torch Run made its way through Bergen County this morning.
More than 3,000 dedicated law enforcement officers today are helping carry the “Flame of Hope” nearly 1,000 miles across the state, with some of the event’s 26 legs stopping or passing through just about every Bergen municipality.
The ultimate destination: The College of New Jersey in Ewing, where the torch will light the cauldron officially launching the Special Olympics New Jersey 2014 Summer Games around 7:30 tonight.
The games run through the weekend, with more than 2,500 athletes competing in seven sports: aquatics, bocce, gymnastics, powerlifting, softball, tennis and track & field.
What’s more: The Special Olympics USA Games will be hosted by New Jersey from June 14-21. Nearly 3,500 athletes will compete in 16 Olympic-style team and individual sports, with the support of 1,000 coaches, 10,000 volunteers and 70,000 family members, friends and spectators.
Bergenfield, Dumont and New Milford teamed up for a five-mile leg, with nearly 20 officers participating.
“I run for the athletes, to show that we care for those who need us,” New Milford Frank Papapietro told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “I also run for their parents. This is such a great cause. I’m honored to participate.”
Papapietro ran along with Bergenfield Police Chief Michael Carr. Dumont Chief Joseph Faulborn and Bergenfield Detective Capt. Cathy Madalone were among the motor escort officers.
Some of the day’s first runners set off at 5:30 a.m. from Oakland. By 9:15 a.m., the torch had made its way to Ho-Ho-Kus, where local police waited eagerly at Nellie’s Place on Franklin Turnpike to take it from neighboring Waldwick.
Ho-Ho-Kus Detective Anthony Balestrieri led a team of eight from his department. The officers were joined by local athletes from the Bergen Wildcats team, which is supported by the work of the Special Olympics of New Jersey.
Some of the athletes are students at the Ho-Ho-Kus based ECLC, a school for children and adults with special needs.
Fellow students cheered as the officers and athletes ran down Franklin Turnpike.
Stops in Ridgewood ( photo, top ) included the Willard and Ridge elementary Schools, where soggy but smiling law enforcement officers were cheered on by pupils, teachers and staff members. Two students contributed to the cause and posed for photos with the torch and the runners ( photo, below ).
Several runners got high fives.
“The Torch Run is the culmination of the many hours that members of law enforcement volunteer each year,” Port Authority Police Chief Robert Belfiore said. “It is symbolic of the commitment and dedication that New Jersey law enforcement has for Special Olympics athletes in this state and the camaraderie that has developed between law enforcement and Special Olympics athletes.”
Special Olympics New Jersey relies mostly on individual, corporate, civic and foundation contributions. One of its top grassroots contributors, the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) is part of an international campaign coordinated and managed by all divisions of law enforcement officers and officials from throughout the world.
Last year, the LETR for Special Olympics New Jersey raised more than $2.7 million.
Wichita, Kansas Police Chief Richard LaMunyon launched the International Torch Run in 1981. New Jersey held its first run in 1984, from Liberty State Park in Jersey City to Rutgers Stadium in New Brunswick.
The international event has expanded throughout the U.S. to 35 nations and 12 Canadian provinces.
Special Olympics New Jersey provides free year-round sports training and athletic competition in 24 Olympic-type sports for more than 23,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
PHOTOS: Boyd A. Loving. In addition, Alana Quartuccio Bonillo contributed to this article.
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