On the morning of June 23, traffic slowed to a jogger’s pace on El Camino Real in Santa Clara as the Special Olympics torch entered the final leg of its annual run. For the second year in a row, Santa Clara University (SCU) served as the host of the Special Olympics Northern California, giving Santa Clara police officers the honor of carrying the torch at the end of the relay.
While the torch has wound its way through dozens of cities over the past few weeks, it began in Palo Alto on that Friday morning. Moving down El Camino Real toward SCU’s Buck Shaw Stadium, it was handed to officers from several different police departments including Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
Sunnyvale Department of Safety’s (DPS) Chief Phan Ngo carried the torch for the final portion of Sunnyvale’s relay, jogging into a parking lot just off El Camino Real at the Santa Clara-Sunnyvale border. There, the 15 to 20 participants from the Sunnyvale DPS officially handed the torch over to the runners from the Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD).
“It’s always great to see a large turnout because this is such a great event. We want to do everything we can to support our Special Olympians for their efforts,” said Ngo. “It’s just a feel good event and anytime that we can give back and engage and do community involvement, we love it. Every year I look forward to this event. I’ve been running since 2008.”
The two sides exchanged hugs and greetings, as they have often done during the many torch runs they have participated in before. Minutes later, Santa Clara headed off with a bicycle pulled speaker trailing behind and blasting out Men at Work’s “Who Can it be Now” before transitioning to Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.”
Community Service Officer Alexis Morales carried the torch for the first leg of the journey. Trailing just behind her was retired Santa Clara Assistant Chief Dan Winter, who still resides in Santa Clara and takes an active role in the Special Olympics Northern California. Winter sits on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Northern California. For him, it’s a joy to have the torch run and Special Olympics in his own backyard.
“Super excited to have the games back in Santa Clara for the second year in a row, in our City. Hope they keep coming back to Santa Clara University. It’s great to have them in our town,” said Winter.
Winter helps organize the torch run every year and so he knows the ins and outs of the route.
“Tonight, the final leg will come in and deliver it to the games at the Opening Ceremonies,” said Winter. “The flame will take a little rest at the [Santa Clara] PD and then right before the Opening Ceremonies start at 7:30 tonight, they’ll have a group of runners run it into Buck Shaw.”
Over the weekend, more than 1,000 athletes, parents and volunteers participated in the games, which include four different sporting events.