ROCKINGHAM — Twenty law enforcement officers from three departments were seen running down U.S. 74 Business late Friday morning — but they weren’t in hot pursuit.
Deputies from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, troopers from the N.C. State Highway Patrol and probation officers from the N.C. Department of Public Safety Division of Community Corrections were participating in this year’s annual torch run for the Special Olympics.
The group met at the Richmond County Animal Shelter, the starting point of the route, to stretch and limber up for the run.
“Whoever the slowest runner is…that’s what we’re gonna stay at,” Deputy John Edwards told the team before taking off. “If you run out of energy and you start walking, get on the truck. If somebody’s fast, don’t run ahead ‘cause you ain’t gonna have anyone to help you. So just stay in the group…I know some of you run fast and run long-distance, but just stay together.”
After posing for a photo in front of the banner, the torch was lit by Jason Graham, chief probation officer for Richmond County. He then passed it to Edwards for the run to begin.
The group had a sheriff’s deputy escorting them in front and a trooper bringing up the rear, along with a FirstHealth EMS ambulance.
They ran down the eastbound lane before turning left at the U.S. 1 junction, trekking up the hilly Hancock Street, then turning right onto East Franklin Street. After hitting Fayetteville Road, they turned onto Steele Street to head to the Hitchcock Creek access point.
But this year, the route was a little different.
Instead of going straight to the park, they turned down Love Lane and came through the shaded walking trail for the last leg of the run. The addition changed the distance from 4.25 miles to nearly 5.5 — and they ran it in about an hour.
The torch changed hands several times, including being carried by troopers Eddie Sampson and Justin Sewell.
For Sewell, who patrols in Scotland County, this was his first run.
“It’s a good time, it’s motivating, it’s for a purpose, it’s a good time, being with everybody,” he said.
When asked about coming up Hancock Street, he said, “It was burnin’ the knees….it’s a little rough.”
Sewell said he plans to continue participating as long as he can.
He may be able to match deputy Lt. N.L. Forester, who has taken part in the torch runs for about 20 years. In that time, he only missed two. One was due to an injury; the other he was overseas training police in Iraq. But even that year, he said officers coordinated a short run at an air base in Mosul.
Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr., who was waiting for them at the picnic area, said when the runs first started, it went from one end of the county to the other on U.S. 74, before the bypass was built.
“The torch was being passed around the state,” he said. “Anson County brought it from Union, gave it to us and we would take all the way to the Scotland County line and give it to them….that was a long run.
“I could run back then, boys and girls,” he said, jokingly.
This year, there were no representatives from the Hamlet or Rockingham police departments, although there have been in years past.
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.