This year’s Law Enforcement Torch Run with the Westminster Police Department saw the annual event’s best turnout in history.
The coordinated effort involves more than 200 law enforcement agencies in the region, including more than a dozen in Orange County, who carried the Flame of Hope towards its final destination – the Special Olympics Southern California.
The Westminster Police Department fielded 31 runners, its highest number ever for their four-mile leg, which took place June 7 when the contingent received the torch from Garden Grove Police Department runners in front of the Westminster Police Department Memorial.
“Hopefully, every year we build on that,” said Westminster’s acting Police Chief Mark Lauderback, who has participated in the torch run multiple times. “It’s for a good cause. It’s a great group of people who are putting this together so how can I pass that up. Regardless of the distance or the amount of pain, it’s all worth it.”
With motor officers providing support alongside, the group made its way to Edinger Avenue just west of Brookhurst Street, where they passed the torch to the Fountain Valley Police Department.
Westminster’s team included sworn and civilian police department employees along with city workers from other departments.
Some were participating on their day off and others had worked a graveyard shift the night before.
“It was an awesome experience,” said Brendan Backs, 19, a community preservation officer for Westminster. “Just the vibes are awesome. Everyone’s here to support a great cause and I really enjoyed being part of it.”
The torch traveled nearly 1,500 miles, winding through 200 Southern California communities before arriving at Cal State Long Beach for the Special Olympics on June 9.
The two-day competition featured more than 1,100 Southern California athletes with disabilities who competed for gold, silver, and bronze medals in athletics, basketball, bocce, flag football, and swimming.
In 1981, Wichita Kansas Police Chief Richard LaMunyon began the tradition of the Torch Run, carrying 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 38 years since its inception, the Torch Run has expanded throughout the United States and around the world.
“We have so many great law enforcement (agencies) from all over Orange County, in the state and in the world,” said Ursula Bohen, a marketing volunteer for Special Olympics Orange County. “Law enforcement each year raises millions of dollars for Special Olympics Orange County. Athletes don’t have to spend a penny.”
Sgt. Kevin MacCormick was the main organizer for the Westminster Police Department, just as he has been for the past 15 years.
“For me, just watching them and being able to be a part of that is very fulfilling,” MacCormick said. “These athletes are very motivating and very inspirational. We all have hiccups in our life that we stress about and when you get out there with these folks, it’s all about competing for them … and they are focused. They love competing. They love being out there.”