EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Despite a malfunctioning "flame of hope," Eagle County law enforcement officers and firefighters Tuesday completed a 60-mile torch run through Eagle County for the Special Olympics.
The Eagle County leg of the biannual Law Enforcement Torch Run, a fundraiser and public awareness campaign for Special Olympics Colorado, went from county line to county line across Eagle County along the shoulder of Interstate 70. Local police officers and firefighters ran while Special Olympics athletes biked alongside them at various stages of the route.
"It's a tremendous charity, the Special Olympics," Avon Police Department Lt. Greg Daly said, talking between breaths. "Some challenged individuals are out here with us today - we're doing it for them."
Vail resident Ian Bauer cycled alongside the runners on his mountain bike. While being involved in the Special Olympics for 15 years, this was his first time riding along the torch route. He rode alongside the runners going from Avon to Edwards.
Riding with firefighters and police officers was "pretty cool," he said.
Also in the pack of eight running from Exit 160 to 164 was Avon Police Chief Bob Ticer, who has been participating in Special Olympics torch runs for 23 years. Ticer had participated in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for 20 years as a commander with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, before coming to Avon in 2010.
"It's a great chance to give back to our Special Olympians and give them a great opportunity to compete with each other, it really lights them up. They have a great time out here," Ticer said.
While the runners were on the road, the torch itself was riding in the back seat of a Vail Police patrol car escorting the runners. Officer Lisa Vasquez said an inner mechanism that keeps the torch lit was damaged. That was fine with the runners, as the torch itself can be annoying to run with, since it often blows out.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run began in 1981, and now is the largest grassroots fundraising event for Special Olympics with more than 1,000 law enforcement volunteers. In Colorado, the campaign raises, on average, more than $300,000 a year, but Len Gordon, state manager of the torch run, said the group hopes to raise $500,000 this year. The group got a good start in February, raising about $200,000 from a "Polar Plunge" into an icy lake.
About 20 torch runs will be conducted this month across the state, with runners logging more than in over 1,500 miles running.
In the past, torch relays through Colorado had been conducted that put the torchbearer over rural mountain roads to create a continuous path. Breaking up the tradition into separate, simultaneous runs was an effort to raise awareness, Gordon said.
While there are other worthy causes such as breast cancer and Altizmers disease, Gordon says it is moving to have local law enforcement and firefighters get involved in Special Olympics.
"It's magic between our officers and athletes," said Gordon.
Torch Month culminates on May 31 with a run down the 16th Street Mall into the Pepsi Center in Denver. The torch will then be chauffeured to the campus of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where the games will begin June 2.