Special Olympics Torch Run Kicks Off at UH

Each year, law enforcement officers from around the state unite to carry Special Olympics Texas' torches to the games in Arlington. For the first time, the University of Houston will serve as the launching point for the Gulf Coast portion of this trek at 8 a.m. on May 20.

Approximately 40 law enforcement officers from Texas' Gulf Coast region will run to Arlington. Among those participating are three members of the UH Department of Public Safety: Officer Jocelyn Ballard, Lt. Dina Gonzales and Officer Troy Golden.

Before runners start their journey, a press conference will be held at UH's Cullen Family Plaza. Afterward, officers will run with the torch through campus and begin their trek to Arlington.

Law enforcement officials from other regions depart for Arlington from different Texas cities. All volunteers will run or bike through designated routes and also ride in automobiles through different stretches of the trip. Between 400 and 500 Texas officers are expected to participate in the torch run.

This will be the sixth year that Gonzales has participated in the torch run, and she's especially pleased to see UH as its launching point.

"We are very excited that UH is the starting point for this stretch of the torch run," Gonzales said. "I am particularly proud to kick off this event at the university I serve."

A few years ago, Gonzales was encouraged by friends from other police departments to participate in this event. After experiencing the joy of the athletes' faces when the torch arrived at opening ceremonies, she thought she would recruit other UH runners.

With inspiration from Gonzales, Ballard put on her running shoes and embarked on her first torch run last year. This year, Golden follows in their footsteps, literally.

"Troy is excited, but he hasn't fully grasped what lies ahead," Gonzales said. "Still, his enthusiasm has been an asset during the planning phase of this event. We're pleased to have him on board."

The trip is fun but physically demanding. At each stop on the torch route, participants will run between and one and three miles with the torch. The ultimate reward, said Gonzales, is hearing athletes' cheers once the torch enters the stadium. In Arlington, officers can elect to volunteer at the games and serve as official "huggers," providing friendly support to athletes at the finish lines of various events.

"You receive an overwhelming feeling of appreciation," Gonzales said. "It's not often that a stadium is filled with people, who are cheering you on. Everyone is very appreciative."

The Law Enforcement Torch Run is the Special Olympics Texas' largest grassroots fundraiser and public awareness vehicle. Each year, officers from different regions of Texas across the state carry the flame to support Special Olympics' events and raise funds through merchandise sales, donations and pledges for runners in the Torch Run. For more details, visit http://www.sotx.org/donate/torchrun/.