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More than 30 law enforcement and corrections employees participated in the Annual Law Enforcement Special Olympics Torch Run from Fredericktown to the St. Francois/Jefferson County line Wednesday morning.

The torch run had a late start at the Fredericktown Police Department Wednesday morning due to the weather. It started with the Fredericktown police officers running to the Madison County/St. Francois County line on U.S. 67. From there, Farmington took over and the other St. Francois County law enforcement officers joined in to continue to the Jefferson County line.

Participants included staff from the correctional centers in Bonne Terre and Farmington, St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Farmington Police, Desloge Police, St. Francois County Probation and Parole, and Fredericktown Police.

For the first time ever, since 1995 when St. Francois County began taking part in the torch run, two Special Olympics athletes took the torch up into their hands and ran a portion of the way with law enforcement.

Desloge Police Chief James Bullock said this is the first year they ever had Special Olympic athletes run with them.

“The law enforcement personnel that were participating in the run were overjoyed with the fact that those kids came and participated with them,” said Chief Bullock. “They got to run with them and I’m sure it was tugging at their hearts when they saw it. This is what this run is all about. It’s law enforcement showing their support to these athletes. I want to thank everyone who participated and helped.”

Missouri Special Olympics Development Manager Finley Hurth said each year they have a torch run. The run has different legs beginning a couple weeks before the big event in Springfield.

“Police officers and Special Olympic athletes carry the 'torch of hope' to show support for the athletes,” said Hurth. “I think it is incredible having an athlete run alongside police officers. (It) is a very rewarding experience for both the officers and the athletes. Having them a part of the torch run is incredible, we welcome them to be able to participate. It is definitely a good start for many years to come, where more athletes can participate in this annual event.”

This torch run is a piece of a statewide effort to bring the torch to the state summer games in Springfield. Chief Bullock added that in addition to the torch run, they do other things to show their support to the Special Olympics.

“We also do other things to raise funds to send in for Special Olympics Missouri,” he said. “I do a trap and skeet shoot every year and what we sent in this year from the Desloge Police Department alone was $1,500. This is also the second year that MoDOT came out and assisted and it worked out very well. It’s so much more of an advantage to us having them slow the traffic down at the back of the line like they were.”

St. Francois County Sheriff Dan Bullock said the morning had a really rough start with the hail, rain and lighting but it turned out to be a beautiful day for the torch run.

“We really want to give a big thank you to MoDOT for sending the trucks out to block the lanes for us to keep the officers safe,” Sheriff Bullock. “Last year they just showed up to help us, so this year we called them to let them know when we would be out this year. I hope it turns into a partnership where they come and help us every year.”

The runners were escorted by law enforcement vehicles, in addition to the MoDOT workers who were helping out. Runners took turns carrying the torch about every mile or so.

Today, the Law Enforcement Torch Run or LETR is held in 50 states and 48 countries around the world. The event raises $42.6 million annually and recruits more than 15,000 law enforcement officers from all over the world.

The Torch Run is a campaign to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics. The mission of the LETR is to raise both dollars and awareness for Special Olympics. Nearly 200 agencies and 6,500 officers work year-round in Missouri to accomplish this goal. All funds raised go toward supporting Special Olympics Missouri's year-round sports training and athletic competition program for more than 17,000 athletes across the state.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

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