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Washington Co. athletes carry torch for Special Olympics

June 05, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Local athletes are participating in a torch run leading up to the Special Olympics Maryland Summer Games 2008 at Towson University this weekend.

The Maryland Torch Run Relay involves more than 2,000 law enforcement officers from around the state who take part in a 600-mile, one-week torch relay to pass the Special Olympics "Flame of Hope" across Maryland, according to the Special Olympics Web site - www.somd.org. About 1,175 athletes are expected to compete in the three-day event, according to the Web site.

Wednesday's torch run started in Hancock, with different people participating in various legs of the run, said John Ryder, organizer for the Western Maryland portion of the torch run.

Local law enforcement officers participated in the run. One of the big motivations for many officers is helping people, and the Torch Run is part of that, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said.

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"That's what cops do," he said.

Vicki Follett coaches Washington County athletes for the Special Olympics and has been involved in the Torch Run for about 10 years.

Almost 40 athletes from the county will be participating this weekend, she said.

Her son is a Special Olympics athlete who has participated since he was about 8, Follett said.

Lee Follett, 31, runs in several track events and also competes in the shot put, he said. Follett ran about three-quarters of a mile through Hagerstown during Wednesday's Torch Run.

"It was fun," he said.

Most of the Special Olympics athletes will complete in preliminary trials Friday to ensure the competition Saturday and Sunday is fair, Vicki Follett said.

"It's a great event," Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said of the Torch Run. "A fantastic way to raise money and awareness," he said.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics is a year-round fundraising and awareness movement organized by law enforcement officers from around the world, according to the Maryland Special Olympics Web site. In 2007, officers from 35 countries raised more than $25 million for Special Olympics programs.

Donnie Swiget, 46, also ran a portion of the Torch Run Wednesday. He runs the 50-yard dash and competes in the long jump for the Special Olympics, Swiget said.

"It's fun," he said.

Washington County's Special Olympics athletes begin training in late March or early April, Vicki Follett said.

For more information about the torch run go to http://www.somd.org/events/torchrun.html.

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