Torch Run continues link between Special Olympics & NJ police
Police from around New Jersey on Friday will help bring the “flame of hope” to the Special Olympics New Jersey Summer Games at The College of New Jersey in Ewing.
The 36th annual Torch Run will start from locations around the state as early as 4:30 a.m. heading toward the games in time for the opening ceremony at 7:30 p.m.
The event is part of the special relationship New Jersey law enforcement has with Special Olympics.
"We're there to raise as much money as we can so that no athlete will ever be turned away for lack of funds," said Robert Belfiore, retired deputy chief of the Port Authority of NY/NJ and director of the New Jersey Torch Run. "We promised that in 1984 along with Special Olympics New Jersey, when there were 300 athletes. Today there are 25,000 athletes."
Special Olympics athletes compete in bocce, gymnastics, powerlifting, softball, swimming, tennis, and track and field.
The Torch Run will likely cause delays as the groups wearing their red shirts make their way toward Ewing. Belfiore said the groups will run along the shoulder with an escort by local police or vehicles marked with Torch Run signage.
About 3,000 officers from 375 police departments will participate, including Linden police Chief David Hart, who said he has organized his leg of the run for the past 32 years as well as several Polar Plunges, which also raise money for the Special Olympics.
"It's a tremendous fundraiser and a tremendous event. Once you participate in one run or go to one opening ceremony, you'll do it every year," Hart said. "To see all these athletes who are real heroes, adults and children with special needs marching on to the field and the police right with them, highfiving them and cheering them on and giving them encouragement, it's the best fundraiser police can be involved with in the state, I believe."
In February, 7,100 people ran into the freezing Atlantic Ocean for the Polar Bear Plunge and raised more than $2 million.
New Jersey was the third state to get involved with Special Olympics in 1984.
"From the beginning, we got more out of them than we gave. They were just terrific, they were honest. When they hug you, they hug you. There's nothing made-up about them. That relationship just bloomed," Hart said.
Belfiore will be part of a run that starts at 4:30 a.m. at Island Beach State Park.
Officers will continue to volunteer their time during the games by awarding medals to athletes that weekend.
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