Taneytown resident Tammy Holibaugh has participated in the Special Olympics for 17 years, competing in basketball, bowling, soccer, swimming, and track and field.
The 24-year-old said the games have introduced her to friends and experiences she otherwise would not have had.
"If there wasn't Special Olympics, I don't know where I would be," she said.
Members from Carroll County and state law enforcement agencies ran from all ends of the county to Westminster Wednesday in support of athletes like Holibaugh.
The Maryland Law Enforcement Torch Run passed through the county with more than 100 officers, employees, students from Westminster East and West middle schools and athletes participating. The event culminated in a rally outside of City Hall recognizing area athletes.
"We feel very fortunate to be able to host this here in the City of Westminster," said Westminster Common Council member Tony Chiavacci as he thanked Westminster Chief of Police Jeff Spaulding.
The torch run has been held in the state since 1986, but it became an annual event when Spaulding was named chief of the police department.
Participants in this year's run include the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, Maryland State Police, Fire Marshall, State's Attorney's Office, Hampstead Police Department, City of Westminster Police, Taneytown Police Department, Carroll County Detention Center, Springfield Hospital security and officers from McDaniel College campus safety.
Five legs of the torch run descended upon Westminster from the corners of the county, including from Manchester, Taneytown, Mount Airy, and Union Bridge. One group from the event walked from the Carroll County Farm Museum.
Spaulding said the run has grown from humble beginnings to now being held in all 50 states and 40 countries.
Spaulding himself began as just a runner before becoming a department coordinator. He now serves as a regional director.
Sitting in his office, he can point to pictures of local athletes and recount the story of how they met during his involvement with Special Olympics. Placed throughout the office and adorning the walls are medals, trophies and plaques from Special Olympics events from around the world.
After signing up for the first event just because he liked to run and wanted be part of a group, Spaulding said Special Olympics is something that he gets more out of it than what he puts in.
"It becomes a passion, not just a casual interest," he said.
The 43rd Summer Games will be held June 7-9 at Towson University.
Spaulding earned another award to hang in his office Wednesday when Donna McGuire, fundraising chair and assistant volunteer coordinator for Special Olympics of Carroll County, presented him with a plaque recognizing their appreciation for his support.
"If I were to name all that you (Spaulding) have done for us, the list would be never ending," McGuire said.
Spaulding said the torch run was widely supported by the Carroll community in 2004 and has been ever since.
"It's just a great community effort," he said.
This year, Westminster East and West Middle Schools combined to raise $1,000 and the partnership of local businesses Tevis Energy, Jiffy Mart and Modern Comfort Systems contributed $1,000 for Special Olympics, Spaulding said.
Every police department is invited to participate, but depending on staffing, some are not able to participate every year, Spaulding said.
The Maryland Law Enforcement Torch Run raised $3.2 million last year, according to Spaulding.
It is the single largest fundraising source for Special Olympics Maryland, he said.
The 1986 inaugural torch run raised $5,000.
Spaulding has traveled worldwide in his support for Special Olympics events, including trips to South Korea and Greece.
The best aspect of the Special Olympics for Spaulding is being able to put a medal around an athlete's neck and feel an "incredible sense of pride in their accomplishment."
"It keeps you coming back," Spaulding said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun