The Westminster Police Department had its most diverse group of participants ever during this year’s five-mile leg of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run for the 2022 Special Olympics.
As always, the June 10 run featured a large contingent of police officers as well as the police chief, but the team of 16 runners who pounded city streets to raise funds and awareness for the Special Olympics also included city employees, government officials, relatives, and one firefighter.
Westminster Police Chief Darin Lenyi, Mayor Tri Ta, Councilwoman Kimberly Ho, and 48th District Congresswoman Michelle Steel were among the participants.
“I wanted to support our police department and Westminster as a whole and I want to support the Special Olympics,” Ho said. “I’m not a runner. I’m a fast walker. I finished last but at least I finished. I mean I think it was good entertainment for our spectators. They stop and they watch, especially school kids and teachers.”
Westminster Police Chief Darin Lenyi, a veteran of several torch runs with the Placentia and Laguna Beach police departments, was participating for the first time in Westminster.
“I think it’s important to be out there supporting a great cause and supporting the members of the department who are giving of themselves,” said Lenyi, who became chief in Westminster eight months ago.
Westminster Police Officer Chris Doan was participating in the torch run for the first time after having to work in previous years when the event took place. The run was a breeze for Doan, who has also run in the grueling, 120-mile, 20-stage Baker to Vegas Relay which challenges participants to run through the desert and over mountains, often in triple-digit heat.
“Luckily this year I had the day off so obviously I wanted to come out and participate,” Doan said. “I have a little over six years on now. It’s not just about taking bad guys to jail. It’s about community engagement and building our relationship with the community.”
Westminster Commander Kevin MacCormick has been participating in the torch run since 2000 and has been the main organizer for the event since 2004.
“I think it’s a great event,” said MacCormick, who is also a regular participant in a 630-mile bike ride from Sacramento to Orange County to honor officers killed in the line of duty. “These athletes are just inspiring. Whenever you think you’re having a bad day or got dealt a raw deal all you’ve got to do is watch them compete and it just erases all that. The smiles on their faces … All they care about is getting out there and being able to compete on the field and that is awesome.”
Orange County Fire Authority Firefighter Kyle Kruthaup, of Station 65 in Westminster, didn’t know he would be participating until the morning of the event.
“My captain challenged me,” Kruthaup said. “I borrowed his running shoes.”
But Kruthaup took on an extra challenge by wearing his turnout and gear, carrying an additional 50 pounds. Kruthaup is used to carrying even more weight when he participates in a commemorative Sept. 11 event in San Diego each year, which involves making three trips up and down the stairs of a 33-story hotel and running a lap around the hotel in between stair climbs.
“It’s a different experience running,” Kruthaup said.
The torch run started its trek through Southern California on May 23 and made its way to Orange County on June 7. More than 30 agencies will have a turn carrying the torch through the county before the torch completes its final leg on June 18.
The money raised helps the athletes compete in the Special Olympics’ various programs. In 2019, the year before the coronavirus pandemic, Westminster Police Department fielded 31 runners, its highest number ever.
The tradition began in 1981, when Wichita Kansas Police Chief Richard LaMunyon first carried the Flame of Hope to raise awareness and funds for the Special Olympics. Two years later, the International Association of Chiefs of Police began endorsing the Torch Run, making it the largest public awareness and fundraising campaign for the Special Olympics. In the 41 years since its inception, the Torch Run has expanded throughout the United States and around the world.