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'You get that special connection'

Police officers, Special Olympians run shoulder to shoulder in Torch Run

As many as 40 Barrie Police officers traded uniforms for short and sneakers and hit the ground running for The Ontario Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. 

Under blue skies and luckily no humidity, Special Olympians from Simcoe County joined the crowd as it left from Barrie Police Headquarters on Spirling Drive around 10 a.m. Wednesday.

The charity that is so near and dear to the hearts of police officers is celebrating its 30th year. 

Barrie Police Service has been supporting Special Olympics Ontario Law Enforcement Torch Run for at least 15 years.

"The run is about raising awareness as well as raising funds for all the special events they do throughout the course of the year," said Barrie Police Sgt. Rob Gravel, who says officers benefit from the run as well. 

"We're able to give them the high five and run next to them. You get that special connection."

Law Enforcement in the province raised $1.7 million last year for Special Olympics Ontario.

The 3 km Barrie Police run went down St. Vincent St. to city hall and then on the St. Vincent Park for a snack and a gathering.

Barrie's new Deputy Chief Ken Weatherill laced up his running shoes for his first torch run in Barrie.

But Weatherill has been participating in the run since 1989 during his tenure with Hamilton Police.

"The most exiting part for me is always when you're running along with our Special Olympians and you get that support from the community. They're out there cheering us all the way and its a wonderful experience," Weatherill said.

Mayor Jeff Lehman mingled with a crowd of athletes as they awaited the arrival of runners at city hall.

Helena Rothenburg district developer for Special Olympics Ontario and a sport coach in Barrie said the money raised from the run largely goes towards provincial games and provides immeasurable benefits for the athletes. 

"To have an opportunity to come out to perform in your sport, excel in your sport, be rewarded in your sport is awesome. To be able to come out have this relationship with the police on a day like today and an ongoing partnership is really nice too. The police are aware of our athletes in the community which is helpful," said Rothenburg.

"He is so proud of himself and all his accomplishments in Special Olympics," said proud mom Katherine McCarroll of her son.

"He's had more opportunities with this organization in his entire life to be proud of himself and to be part of a group and his peers, and  be recognized for what he's doing,"