Dozens of police officers from central Alabama ran more than a mile Thursday morning through downtown Anniston in honor of the state Special Olympics, which begin Friday in Troy.
The run began around 8:30 a.m. at the Anniston police station and ended at the Alabama Law Enforcement Memorial on the corner of 17th Street and Quintard Avenue.
The run in Anniston is one of 13 legs of the Alabama Law Enforcement Torch Run held throughout the state, said torch run director Debbie Sumrall, and is scheduled to culminate Friday night at the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics games at Troy University.
Anniston police Chief Shane Denham said the Thursday morning run was the largest in the city yet and probably one of the biggest in the state this year.
“Just the support for the Special Olympics, that’s an important thing for us. That’s what it’s all about,” Denham said. “It’s not about us or the PD, it’s about supporting the Special Olympics.”
One officer led the run holding a lit torch that will be used to light the main torch at the opening ceremony. Sumrall referred to the torch in the run as “the flame of hope.”
Anniston police Sgt. Kyle Price said a group of Anniston officers will run in the other legs and will be at the ceremony in Troy.
Pati Tiller, Arc of Calhoun and Cleburne Counties Special Olympics coordinator, said 45 locals, including athletes, coaches and chaperones, will be at the state games.
Tiller said student athletes will compete in paddleboarding and track and field, while adult athletes will complete in bowling and bocce. Tiller said the run raised the morale of many of those athletes.
“It’s nice to know people care about them, that they’re doing this and that they’re involved,” Tiller said. “They recognize the torch as their symbol.”
Price described ending the run at the memorial as “bittersweet,” because a monument for former Anniston officer Justin Sollohub is on the site. Price said he and Sollohub worked together at the Police Department before Sollohub was killed while on duty in 2011.
“There’s a pretty big monument to him over there,” Price said. “In your day-to-day work and experience, you can forget about things like that. It’s just a reminder.”
At the end of the run, local Special Olympics athletes stood in front of the memorial to cheer on the officers as they finished. Denham said he was touched to see them there.
“I’ve been doing it for four or five years now, and it still brings tears to my eyes every year,” Denham said. “It means a lot to them, so it means a lot to us, too.”
“It’s always meaningful because we run to this memorial, and it’s wonderful to see the local athletes out here,” Sumrall said. “We enjoy the high fives and the hugs we get from them. That’s what it’s all about, raising awareness and spreading the inclusion revolution.”
Last year, Price said, he was able to run with officers all the way up to the opening of the games. He said he liked the running and camaraderie, but especially enjoyed the ceremony.
“The most awesome thing is when we get dressed up in our class A uniforms, line the hallways there at Troy University where they have the opening ceremony,” Price said. “They call out all the athletes and they come by you with high-fives, hugs, kisses on the cheek. It’s a pretty awesome thing.”