By Jason A. Smith
Law-enforcement personnel in Henry County teamed up with a group of athletes for the third year in a row, to fan the flame of support for Special Olympics in Georgia.
The Henry County Law Enforcement Torch Run was held Wednesday morning in McDonough. Representatives from the police department, and the sheriff's office, accompanied Special Olympians on the run, as part of a Special Olympics fund-raiser. The event took participants on a 4.5-mile trek, from the Publix at 920 Ga. Highway 81 East, around the McDonough Square, to the Oak Grove shopping plaza at the intersection of Jonesboro and Oak Grove roads.
Henry County Police Officer Jason Duffey spearheaded the event for the department. The goal of the annual effort, he said, is to help the athletes generate funds that will enable them to take part in state-wide competitions. "For us to help them out and send them to a games event to compete ... puts a smile on their faces and makes us excited," said Duffey. "It's like policing, all over again, for the first time. When you get into law enforcement, you want to help people and make sure everybody's safe. These Special Olympics [athletes], they live for this, to do these ... to go to the Special Olympics and participate."
The police department, Duffey added, has supported the Special Olympics since the 1990s, and has participated in the Torch Run since 2008.
Terry Nash, therapeutic coordinator with Henry County Parks and Recreation, works closely with the Special Olympics in Henry County. She said the Torch Run plays a crucial role in allowing her athletes to shine at the State Summer Games, scheduled to be held Friday through Sunday at Emory University."We have over 150 adult athletes," she said. "Every year, we take a group of 65 athletes or more to the Summer Games. We have [participants in] several different sports that we're taking up there, to compete in volleyball, table tennis, tennis, running and aquatics.
"The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Georgia is a huge fund-raiser every year for the State Summer Games," added Nash. "Without the support of local agencies, there wouldn't be as much money."
Henry Sheriff's Deputy Stephen Chance ran in the 2009 Torch Run, and came to this year's event to cheer on his co-workers. He said employees of the sheriff's office are solidly behind the Special Olympics. "I just think Special Olympics is a great cause, and I'm happy to help them out."
Police Officer Carol Wood took part in the Torch Run for the first time. An avid runner, who works in her agency's training division, she said she has always wanted to run with local Special Olympians. "I'm just so proud of everybody who thinks they can do whatever anyone else can do, or maybe even do it better," said Wood. "That's just the way you need to look at things."
Sgt. Jeff Owen, who works in the Henry Police Department's Uniform Patrol Division, and the agency's Special Weapons And Tactics team, volunteered for the Torch Run for the second time in the last three years. He said he admires the determination of Special Olympians, and said others can learn from watching the athletes. "No matter what's going on in your life, or what might be hindering you, it doesn't stop you," Owen said. "If I can see these guys getting out there and running, how can I say I can't run, or I can't get out and train?"
Tarcia Keys, 28, who has competed in Special Olympics for six years, and was one of two athletes who carried the torch during Monday's run, said it was "fun" to see members of law enforcement running with her, and that she is looking forward to competing in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, during this weekend's games.
Dale Jones has been a Special Olympian for 30 years, and wielded the torch for the majority of the Torch Run. Jones, 47, said participating in one of his favorite sports, and being surrounded by local law-enforcement officers, was "a great honor" for him.
"When I think of policemen, I think of them as my father figures," he said. Jones broke away from the pack of officers and deputies at the end of the run. When supporters greeted him with high-fives and congratulations at the finish line, he athlete had only one thing to say.
"I feel like a rock and roll star," he beamed.