By Amy Nelson
The torch is lit and on its way.
Law enforcement officers and volunteers will run the Utah Special Olympics torch through Iron and Washington counties May 16 as the torch continues its trek through the state to raise funds for the Utah Special Olympics.
Wednesday, May 17 the torch will begin traveling north through the eastern counties of Utah.
At least 800 people are expected to participate in the 21-day event, said Lyn Rees, torch run liaison for the Utah Special Olympics.
Police officers, athletes and volunteers gathered at the Provo Tabernacle Friday, May 12 to start the torch on its 1,600 mile journey through nearly every county in the state of Utah.
Russell Sidwell, 29, a Special Olympics athlete from Orem, greeted volunteers and thanked them on behalf of all Utah Special Olympics participants for their support.
Sidwell said he has run with the officers for ten years, and while it is a fun thing to do, the main thing is the support it gains for the Special Olympics.
“Sponsors are very important. The Special Olympics wouldn’t be able to continue without [them], and we appreciate them for that,” Sidwell said.
Six other athletes, one wearing a gold medal around her neck, climbed into the back of an old-fashioned fire truck to accompany nearly two dozen officers and volunteers on the run through Provo.
Sidwell was given the honor of carrying the lit torch, and the runners began down University Avenue with the fire truck in the lead and several police car with lights flashing bringing up the rear.
Two hours later, after the torch had been run through Provo and passed on to BYU police, Springville officers and volunteers awaited the coming of the torch.
The flashing lights of police cars were spotted, then the runners, led by ten-year-old Don Messick, a son of a BYU police officer.
Nobody thought he would be able to make it, but he ran the full six miles with no problems, said BYU security officer Matt Gehring.
Gehring said helping with the Special Olympics is something he has always wanted to do. Since he did not know if he could help with the games themselves, Gehring thought the Torch Run would be a good way to get involved, he said.
This is the first year they have offered the opportunity to security officers on campus, and two of them participated, Gehring said.
“Despite all the distance, it was actually pretty fun,” Gehring said.
Officer Dell Gordon of Springville has participated in the Torch Run for 16 or 17 years, ever since they started doing it in Utah.
He said he organized it for a few years, but just being involved with it every year has been a very fulfilling experience.
The run, which culminates June 1 when the torch is run into the BYU outdoor track to begin the summer games, is a fundraising event organized almost entirely by law enforcement officials.
In past years the event has raised up to $75,000 for the Utah Special Olympics.
Rees said it is one of their biggest fundraisers and one of the few in which the money is given directly to teams in the community where it was raised.
The Torch Run was founded in 1981 by Wichita, Kan., Police Chief Richard Lamunyon when he saw a need to raise funds and awareness for the Special Olympics.
Since 1981, it has expanded through all fifty states and sixteen countries worldwide, raising millions of dollars for the Special Olympics, Rees said.