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Law Enforcement Torch Run covers 700 miles for New Jersey Special Olympics

Photo Credit: FLPD Sgt. Richard Schultz
Photo Credit: FLPD Sgt. Richard Schultz
Photo Credit: FLPD Sgt. Richard Schultz

Nineteen legs of the Law Enforcement Torch Run to benefit New Jersey Special Olympics set off early Friday morning, on the way to covering a combined 722.6 miles of road statewide.

Fair Lawn Lt Derek Bastinck (l.) and Officer Glen Callons (PHOTO courtesy FLPD Sgt. Richard Schultz)

Among the more than 3,000 officers participating were Fair Lawn Lt. Derek Bastinck and Officer Glen Callons, along with Special Olympian Carl Strehl, who began their run at the Glen Rock border on Maple Avenue in Oakland, headed for Paramus.

One of the other North Jersey legs of the fund-raising tour began at 6:30 a.m. at the Wayne Municipal complex on Valley Road. Both ended at 2 p.m. Friday at the entrance to James J. Braddock Park in North Bergen — where the runners were met by another group that began at the Shop Rite on Livingston Avenue in Northvale.

Several legs continued into the afternoon, including one that set off from the Hudson park headed for the Millstone River Bridge in Somerset County — a chain that covers nearly 60 miles.

The longest leg — 78 miles — left the Wantage Municipal building on Route 23 at 6 this morning, bound for a 3:50 p.m. arrival at the shopping center on Routes 206 and 28 in Somerville. The various runs culminate in a final leg out of the Princeton area.

Paramus police officers who participated (l. to r.): Ret. D/Lt P. Bellomo, Lt. B. Goggin, Conf. Sec. D. Ryen, Ptl. M. Pinajian, D/Lt. R. Guidetti, Det. J. Devine, Special Olympian Karen Byrne, Ptl. C. Esposito, Ptl. J. Cullen, Ptl. J. Arvidson, Chief C. Brock, Ptl. M. Guglielmo, Ptl. B. Linden

Supporters along the route cheered the officers who carried “Flame of Hope” torches throughout the state. Eventually, one will represent New Jersey before those from 36 countries worldwide meld into the magnificent torch that ignites the cauldron at the Opening Ceremonies and officially opens the Special Olympics World Summer Games on June 25 in Athens, Greece. Athletes from more than 170 counties will compete.

And while the donations are critical, the athletes involved say that the law enforcement officers give them acceptance, friendship and encouragement.

The Torch Run 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,” said Robert Belfiore, Director of the New Jersey Law Enforcement Torch Run.

New Jersey’s first Torch Run set off in 1984, thanks to the late Steven Vitale, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Officer who was moved to action while taking photos at a local Special Olympics competition.

The course ran from Liberty State Park in Jersey City to Rutgers Stadium in New Brunswick — roughly 43 miles — and raised $7,000.

Expectations for this year’s effort are nearly $2 million.

Sponsors include the New Jersey Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police, the New Jersey Knights of Columbus, the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, Macy’s, the ShopRite/Wakefern Corporation and the Italian American Police Society of New Jersey.

The very first Law Enforcement Torch Run began in 1981, when Wichita (Kansas) Police Chief Richard LaMunyon saw an urgent need to raise funds for and increase awareness of Special Olympics. It didn’t take long for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to become the founding law enforcement organization of the run.

Now, they’re everywhere: Military police from Hawaii stationed in Iraq conducted a Torch Run in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s former home village.

“What started in Kansas as a flicker of hope for Special Olympics has now become a roaring flame of stability for Special Olympics athletes worldwide,” LaMunyon once said.

More than 85,000 police officers worldwide are participating, making the Law Enforcement Torch Run the largest grass-roots fundraiser and public relations vehicle for Special Olympics. Donations this year are expected to reach at least $35 million.

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