SIKESTON -- About 50 Southeast Missouri law enforcement officers will lace up their running shoes to participate in the annual Statewide Law Enforcement Torch Run later this week.
Set for May 30 through June 4, the Torch Run for Special Olympics Missouri will feature law enforcement officers from around the state running a torch to raise awareness for Special Olympics and the 2007 State Summer Games. The Summer Games will be June 4-6 at the University of Missouri-Columbia campus.
"This is a way Missouri law enforcement officers give back to others, and I think it's very much needed. It serves lots of purposes supporting such an outstanding cause, and that's what it's all about," said Lt. Jim McNiell, Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop E Torch Run coordinator for the past four years.
The Southeast Missouri region will run May 30 and is divided into seven legs for the Torch Run. Officers in Sikeston will begin at 9 a.m. at U.S. 61 North from Sikeston Wal-Mart. The route in Charleston begins at 10:30 a.m. from 1-57 and Business 62. Also at 10:30 a.m. a leg will begin at Dexter Route from Business 60.
Other legs will take place in Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff, Kennett and Madison County. Legs average about 5 miles in length, McNiell said.
Nearly 200 Missouri law enforcement agencies raise around $1 million each year by selling Torch Run T-shirts and organizing special events throughout the state. In 2006, Missouri's Torch Run was ranked No. 8 in the world based on gross dollars raised.
Locally, Troop E has already raised more money through its sales of Torch Run T-shirts and hats, which bear the phrase: "We're behind you every step of the way."
"It's just a worthwhile cause," McNiell said. "The efforts we make by selling T-
shirts and hats are benefiting 15,000 Special Olympics athletes in the state. By the money we raise, the athletes are able to particle in the event at no expense to their families."
Torch Run T-shirts and ball caps were sold by Troop E last week at Wal-Mart in Sikeston and will be sold June 9 in Dexter.
"The people in the community are so generous, and we have regular buyers who come each year and know what we're there for. It's all about helping others," McNiell said.
Troop E is usually a leader for funds raised for Special Olympics and is normally recognized for its sales, said McNiell, who was recognized by the state as an Outstanding Volunteer Unsung Hero in 2002 and 2006 for his involvement in the annual event.
"The officers are inspired by the athletes, but the athletes are inspired by the officers and they truly are our heroes," said Susan Stegeman, achievement development officer for Special Olympics in Jefferson City.
The Torch Run originated in Wichita, Kan., in 1981 when the organizing committee for Summer Games for Special Olympics was working with law enforcement to handle security/logistics for the organization.
"Chief Richard LaMunyon wanted to get the officers involved so they could see how special the athletes are and how it impacted him. The Torch Run is now worldwide and has been in existence for 25 years. Missouri's involvement is five years behind when it started," Stegeman recalled.
Law enforcement makes such an impact to Special Olympics and has since the beginning, especially since the last five years, Stegeman said. Many of the officers got involved in the event because of the athletes -- and that's why they stay involved, she said.
McNiell agreed the athletes are what makes involvement in the event worthwhile, but it also serves another purpose.
"This event shows a different to side to law enforcement other than officers carrying guns and making traffic stops," McNiell said. "The public sees the humanity of law enforcement -- that we are caring people and involved in community."