By Aaron Blevins, 6/14/2012
Torch is Carried Through WeHo and Hollywood
It’s been a bond that has developed over the years, through fundraising campaigns, athletic competitions and, most recently, a Guinness World Record attempt for “Longest Ride on a Fair Ground/Theme Park Attraction” by LAPD’s Gus Martinez.
That bond between local law enforcement and Special Olympics Southern California (SOSC) was strengthened last week, when several different agencies again teamed up to help the organization launch its Summer Games.
The Flame of Hope, the torch that lights the cauldron at the Games in Long Beach, traveled down Sunset Boulevard through Hollywood and West Hollywood last Thursday. It was one of three torches traversing Southern California on their way to the Games.
Officers from LAPD’s Hollywood Division received the torch from their counterparts at the Northeast Division, and carried it four miles west to West Hollywood. Senior lead officer Paula Davidson said the division is always pleased to help SOSC.
“It’s a great opportunity, and we really like it when we have actual athletes from the Special Olympics run with us,” she said.
Davidson said the division has been involved for at least 15 to 20 years, and this year, they sold T-shirts provided by SOSC to raise $500 for the organization. Thirty to 40 officers from LAPD, including Davidson, also attended the Games over the weekend.
“It’s a great organization,” she said. “We try to support them as much as we can.”
In West Hollywood, deputies from the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station met the LAPD officers at Sunset Avenue and Havenhurst Drive, before running 1.5 miles to pass the torch to the Beverly Hills Police Department.
“It’s for a good cause,” West Hollywood Sgt. Jon Klaus said. “We love doing it.”
He said the station, like Hollywood, has helped SOSC for about 15 to 20 years. Deputies used to participate in a Tip-a-Cop program, in which the deputies wait tables for tips to benefit the organization, before Hamburger Hamlet shut down.
“We used to get a pretty positive response out of it,” Klaus said, adding that he was, in 2008, the law enforcement representative who lit the cauldron. “It was really touching.”
Kelly Kloepping, of SOSC, said law enforcement’s participation in the events is very touching. She said approximately 3,500 officers in Southern California participate in one way or another, referencing the Tip-a-Cop events, Martinez’s Ferris wheel challenge and the Torch Run.
“It is literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of officers running,” Kloepping said. “They’ll tell you over and over — Special Olympics is their outlet. The athletes look to them as heroes.”
She said the Torch Run has been ongoing for more than 25 years, with the first one starting in Wichita, Kan. Since then, it has grown to an “unbelievable” level, amounting to $1.3 million in fundraising in Southern California alone, Kloepping said.
That funding supports more than 11,000 Special Olympics athletes in Southern California. Of those 11,000, approximately 1,100 qualified for the Games — 250 from the greater Los Angeles area, Kloepping said.
While the athletes get to put their physical capabilities on display, it also serves as a social event and provides needed services to the athletes, she said. During their trip to Long Beach, athletes meet new friends and coaches, and they have plenty of time for recreation outside of sports.
“There’s so much to do,” Kloepping added.
SOSC also has a Healthy Athletes Program, which offers exams and screenings for eyesight, hearing and more. For some athletes, it’s the only access they have to the necessary healthcare they need, Kloepping said. She referenced a boy who was diagnosed with cancer through a dental exam. He was one of the first athletes to participate in the program.
“Thank God, we were able to offer him services he didn’t have elsewhere,” Kloepping said.
Then, of course, the athletes get to go for gold, silver or bronze in their sport of choice. On June 9 and 10, athletes participated in aquatics, track and field, basketball, Bocce ball, golf and gymnastics.
Kloepping said SOSC holds more than 100 events per year, though the athletes will take some time off following last weekend’s Games. She said the organization relies on approximately 14,000 volunteers to host the events. For information, visit www.sosc.org.