Local police support Special Olympics through annual Torch Run

MERIDEN — The sun wasn’t the only thing ablaze Thursday morning as area police departments participated in the 2023 Law Enforcement Torch Run.

“We do this every year for the Special Olympics,” said Meriden police Sgt. Vasco Lacerda, an event organizer. “This is their biggest fundraiser and it goes through every town and county in the state and this is our leg of it.”

Law enforcement officers carry the “Flame of Hope” into the Special Olympics Connecticut Summer Games Opening Ceremony, which starts this Saturday in Fairfield.

“Today we have people rallying down at Blue Back Square with five different legs running in from different corners of the state and overall we cover over 500 miles with around 1,500 law enforcement officers throughout the course of our 3-day event,” said Jackie Turro, senior director of special events for the Special  Olympics Connecticut.

There were about 37 Meriden volunteers all wearing matching black t-shirts.

“I’ve been doing this event well over a decade, almost every year,” Deputy Chief Nicholas Sherwood said. “I’m always excited to participate and support the organization. I didn’t prepare as much as I should have, but I’ll give it my best.”

Four members of the Meriden Fire Department participated as well.

“It’s good to support the Police Department and we have a really good working relationship,” said Ryan Dunn, deputy fire chief. “This is a very important fundraiser for them so we always try to support them.”

There were also Special Olympics athlete runners wearing matching white t-shirts.

“Our athletes run right along the police officers which is always cool to see and they’ll carry the torch together,” Turro said.

“I think it’s great that the Special Olympics athletes run with the officers,” Meriden Chaplain Pastor the Rev. Clarence Hayes said. “Why hold them back, and keep them in a bubble? There should be more of them participating if they can. People need to see how we come together caring for others who can’t do what we do.” 

They all eagerly waited in front of the Firestone on the Wallingford/Meriden town line for the Wallingford Police Department to pass the burning torch.

“We started from Wharton Brook State Park on the North Haven/Wallingford Town Line and made our way here,” said Lt. William Merriam of the Wallingford Police Department. “It’s hot, but it was good and we were able to bring some new people along.”

Hayes said a prayer for the Meriden runners before they got going. 

“I prayed to put blessings upon the runners to stay healthy and hydrated as they embarked upon their journey to the next town,” he said. 

The runners headed north on Broad Street and onto East Main Street for just over 4 miles where they handed the torch to officers waiting at the Middlefield town line. 

“Today is going great,” Turro said. ‘It's so amazing to see the police officers out here supporting the communities, supporting the Special Olympics Connecticut, getting to engage with people and have fun.” 

Lacerda shared that putting the event together this year went smoothly. 

“I’ve been in charge of it for probably about six or seven years now and I have a lot of repeat runners. We also got some of our newer offices involved; they're all on top of it. They really like it and they understand what this event is all about,” he added. “It’s not just for us to go run on the street but it’s actually to give back to not just our community but the Special Olympics.”

The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics began in 1981 in Wichita, Kansas. It is the largest public awareness vehicle and grassroots fundraiser for the Special Olympics. 

“We raise money by every runner here they have to actually pay to participate,” Lacerda said. “It’s a great event. The Special Olympics is amazing with the efforts that they do and everything that they put out for the athletes in itself so it’s our honor to try and help them out as best we can.” 

Connecticut has around 175 law enforcement agencies that participate year round supporting nearly 10,000 Special Olympics Connecticut athletes across the state, according to Turro. 

“Thank you to law enforcement for their support and a thank you to members of the community for being patient. We know we back up traffic but we promise it’s all for a good cause,” Turro said.



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