“This is fabulous. This is what we’re all about. Law enforcement, they’re giving back to the community, they’re volunteering their time; running in this heat. It’s spectacular. It’s such a great community that they’re a part of for Special Olympics,” said Ilisa Kessler, Chief Operating Officer, Special Olympics Northern California and Nevada.
Kessler, along with a few employees of the Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) stood outside the police headquarters on The Alameda on June 13. They cheered as officers from the department carried the Flame of Hope past the building and down El Camino Real.
It’s an annual tradition that’s gone on for decades. Every year, officers up and down Northern California spend a small part of their day running the torch across the state in preparation for the annual Special Olympics at UC Davis.
“We have sworn and non-sworn here and then it’s also open to family members, so a lot of the officers like to bring their kids,” said SCPD Office Specialist Kristin DuHain, who received the torch from San Jose police to start Santa Clara’s leg of the run. “We’ve got some young ones today. It’s great. This is definitely our biggest turnout we’ve had in a long time.”
“It doesn’t matter how hot it is, our law enforcement officers always show up. They’re always there for our athletes,” said Kessler. “We have our state games at UC Davis on June 21 – 23, they will be out there in full uniform. It can be 102 [degrees], 106 [degrees], they’re still out there giving medals to our athletes. It’s phenomenal the dedication they have to Special Olympics and to the movement.”
There were no triple digit temperatures for Santa Clara this year. Instead, temps were in the high 70s with a light breeze to keep runners cool.
After a five-mile run down El Camino Real, the torch was handed to Special Olympics Athlete and Santa Clara City employee Lindsay Mibach, who ran the final leg of the run before handing the torch off to the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety (DPS).
“It’s for a great cause so we do get a great turnout,” said Sunnyvale DPS Captain Ava Fanucchi. “It’s not just Public Safety, it’s other city staff that come and participate as well.”
Close to two dozen officers and city employees turned out for Sunnyvale, including DPS Chief Pham Ngo who received the torch from Mibach. Sunnyvale’s runners then turned and started their 3.7-mile run to hand the torch off to Mountain View police.
Mibach will swim at the Special Olympics at UC Davis next week. Over her decades long athletic career, she’s competed in a number of events.
“I started when I was eight years old. I’ve been an athlete for over 28 years,” said Mibach. “I do play basketball and I do play softball, but I’ve got arthritis in my wrists, so I can’t really play right now. I’m helping out as an assistant coach for basketball and softball.”
Across Northern California, more than 2,000 officers participated in this year’s torch run, raising more than $200,000 for the Northern California Special Olympics. This year, the officers are expected to raise a total of $1.4 million for the Special Olympics of Northern California through the run, tip-a-cop fundraisers and other events.
“It’s remarkable,” said Kessler. “Volunteering their time and energy after a really long day a lot of times to do this for our athletes and you know our athletes are just so appreciative, you can see it on their faces. Special Olympics is more than just sports. There’s a lot of other things that we do with Special Olympics. It’s about community, it’s about inclusion.”