ROCKINGHAM — Law enforcement officers from four agencies in Richmond County ran a little more than a 5K Friday morning in the annual Special Olympics Torch Run.
The 3.66-mile route took runners down U.S. 74 Business from the Richmond County Animal Shelter to U.S. 1, then down Steele Street to the Hitchcock Creek Greenway.
Twenty-one runners — representing the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Hamlet Police Department, N.C. Highway Patrol and N.C. Probation and Parole — participated in the run. Former deputy Warren Strong joined in, as did Brandon Silva, who said he was invited to take part.
“This is the first time we’ve done this route,” said Lt. John Edwards with the sheriff’s office. “We have done it up to 9 miles.”
“Seems like if you do it at a less distance,” he added, “you get a better turnout.”
Edwards lit the torch a little after 10 a.m. as Deputy Travis Monroe carried it for the first part of the journey.
Deputy Kevin Viana held the torch high as they passed the BP station a mile down the road. By the time the runners reached their destination, Trooper Clint Greene was pounding the pavement, torch in hand.
The runners were escorted by Deputy Lee Taylor and Trooper Eddie Sampson, bringing up the rear in their patrol cars.
Although there were no participants from the Rockingham Police Department, officers helped block traffic and cheered the runners on.
It took the crew about 35 minutes to make it to the shade of the picnic area at the creek, where they had hot dogs for lunch.
Richmond County Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr., who ran the torch around the track at last week’s Special Olympics games, was at the park to greet them as they finished up. They were later joined by four residents of the Charlotte Street group home.
After several group photos, Clemmons gathered everyone together and thanked all those who participated in the run.
“This is one of the largest crowds we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “It means a lot when they see you participate, come out.”
“The Special Olympics, it holds a very special place in my heart,” said Denise Smith, who has helped to plan and coordinate the event since the beginning.
Smith went on to say although she thinks the agencies already have a good working relationship, “This just adds to the camaraderie that we all have together.”
Sgt. N.L. Forester, a deputy, started participating in the torch runs in 1997 in Moore County, his first run being 19 miles.
Forester has ran every year except one, when he was overseas training the police in Iraq.
Chief Probation Officer Jason Graham has been participating since the first run and said it was an “awesome day.”
“This has been absolutely amazing,” he said. “The weather combined with the number of participants…just awesome.”
“We had a couple of hills that I’m not used to,” he added, describing those by Superior Cranes, Huddle House and coming up U.S. 1 by the old courthouse.
The trek was mostly downhill once they got to Steele Street, with the final hill being quite steep, he said.
Edwards said he will be forwarding the torch on to the Mooresville Police Department for its run next week.
“I hope that next year,” said Graham, “we can have twice as many.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.