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Torch run draws big crowd at Tom Varn

Published:   |   Updated: April 17, 2013 at 11:31 AM

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Monday morning was one of those picture postcard days in Florida that was ideal for being outdoors and taking an early walk.

And that’s just what some 70 people did at precisely 9:30 a.m. at Tom Varn Park. Only these people were not casual strollers. They were a cross section of law enforcement employees and others from the community who joined a large number of special needs citizens of all ages for the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run.

A special staging area was set up for athletes wanting to participate in the 2.4-mile run from Tom Varn to the historic courthouse in downtown Brooksville.

Taking off to cheers from the 100 or so people gathered to watch, the runners completed the circuit in about 30 minutes. Sheriff’s deputies had closed off part of the road while the runners made their laps.

Arriving back at their starting point at Tom Varn Park, the runners were a bit winded and definitely sweaty, but there were smiles all around as the lead torchbearer for the run, Community Policing Deputy Abraham Dowdell, handed it off to special Olympians Elizabeth Post and Angela Click.

After 10 minutes of picture-taking, the participants gathered inside the park for cookies, bananas and other assorted goodies.

It is these kinds of events that bring out the best in everybody, said Christine Hogan, county coordinator for Special Olympics.

“It brings awareness,” said Hogan, as she watched for the returning runners as they made their way back to the park.

The torch goes from county to county and will next be handed off to special Olympians in Citrus County.

Law enforcement officers from more than 300 Florida agencies participate in the statewide torch run to benefit the athletes of Special Olympics Florida.

Each year, more than 5,000 officers carry the torch on a 1500-mile relay through all 66 counties.

Funds are generated through contributions from individuals and businesses along the way and through sales of Torch Run T-shirts and caps.

The event is held each year prior to Special Olympics Florida State Summer Games, which culminate May 17 with a special event at Walt Disney’s World’s Wide World of Sports.

Officers from around the state will then join together to bring the Flame of Hope into the stadium.

Hogan said she has attended many of those ceremonies and it is sure to bring a tear of happiness to anyone’s face.

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said he and his officers feel a special kinship with the handicapped, mentally challenged and the very elderly.

“These people are some of the most vulnerable in society (and) it stands to reason we would want to support a program as worthwhile as the Special Olympics.” Nienhuis said.

It gives the runners a sense of accomplishment, Nienhuis said.

Also on hand Monday morning were about 20 residents of Salishan, a retirement community off Barclay Avenue.

Salishan assistant manager Keith Elliott said residents wanted to come out to support the Olympians. They also provided the balloons for the torch run.

“It’s great for the community,” said Elliott, who sat with Salishan residents on fold-up chairs commanding a great view of the proceedings.

Elliott said this event allows the community to see firsthand the challenges of these people and the role law enforcement plays in supporting the effort.

Elliott also had another reason for coming out: his wife Jane, also an assistant Salishan manager, took part in the run.

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