Midstate law enforcement officers, officials carry Special Olympics torch

WARNER ROBINS – Special Olympians from Houston County clapped and cheered for about 30 law enforcement officers as they headed out Tuesday morning from the parking lot of the Warner Robins police station carrying the Special Olympics torch.

More than 1,000 law enforcement officers from more than 100 agencies help run or bicycle the Special Olympics Georgia ‘‘Flame of Hope’’ on a 1,000-mile, two-week trek across the state to pass the torch to a Special Olympian at the Summer Games in Atlanta. The lighting of the Olympic cauldron will signify the start of the games at Emory University from May 29-31.

In Warner Robins, city police officers were joined by law enforcement officers from the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations from Robins Air Force Base and the Georgia Department of Revenue.

“This was one of our most successful runs,” said Warner Robins police Capt. John Clay, who helped organize the local Law Enforcement Torch Run.

The officers ran and bicycled the torch from the police station down Watson Boulevard to Ga. 247 and on to Allen Road where it was handed off to the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, which next passed the torch to Macon police at Ga. 247 and Broadway.

“We want to support the Special Olympics and their events any way can,” said Bibb County sheriff’s Capt. Harry Colbert.

Sgt. Lee Van Osdol, 40, was one of the Warner Robins police runners.

“I think it’s a good program, and even if you can’t get out and run, you can support the organization with donations,” he said.

Organized in the state in 1986, the torch run has grown into the largest fundraiser for the nonprofit agency. More than a run, it involves fundraising by police officers throughout the year.

The funds raised offset sending athletes to the games and holding the events.

In Macon, members of the Macon Police Department’s SWAT team took the torch to City Hall before passing it off to other members of the police force. That group of nine then ran the torch to Wesleyan College to hand it off to Bibb County sheriff’s officials, who later handed it off to Monroe County Sheriff’s Office participants.

It was unusually cool and breezy in downtown Macon during the morning, making the run a little easier than previous years, several of the officers said.

“Shoot, yes!” said Macon police Sgt. Charles Whitaker. “We thought it was going to be bad, because it was so hot last week. We thought we were going to have to run with water packs.”

Brad Surfus, a first-year member of the Macon SWAT team, said this was his first run.

“It’s a great day for it,” he said. “Most years, they tell me it’s 90 or 100 degrees. This year, the weather was wonderful, except that we have to run into a head wind.”

Sgt. Mark Cotton of Macon SWAT said his unit has participated in the 22 years he’s been with it.

“It’s all to raise money for the Summer Games,” he said. “For us in law enforcement, it’s a chance to raise money and raise awareness for the Special Olympics.”

Most of the Special Olympians who applauded officers in Warner Robins will participate in the master’s bowling tournament in July in Savannah and one will play volleyball at the Summer Games in Atlanta.

“It means a chance for us to participate in any type of sports activity,” said Rose R. Neal-Moore, a local Special Olympics coordinator. (Special Olympics) mean a lot to these athletes.”

John Bodenhamer, a local Special Olympics coordinator, presented Warner Robins police with a plaque before the runners and bicyclists headed out.

“This is a small token of our appreciation,” he said.

Special Olympians and Warner Robins police officers participating in the run also took time to get a group picture before the run got under way.

“We’ve been involved in Special Olympics 30-plus years,” said Warner Robins police Maj. Harry Dennard.

In fact, the Summer Games were once held in Warner Robins before the event was moved to Atlanta, he said.

Warner Robins police also presented a $1,500 check to Special Olympics of Houston County.

Telegraph staff writer Phillip Ramati contributed to this report.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 923-3109, extension 243.