SYKESVILLE - Michael Huep, 34, made the nearly 50-mile trip from Davidsonville to Sykesville where a 5K race and tug of war competition were taking place.
But Huep, a Special Olympics athlete, was not competing Friday. Instead, he was there to cheer on correctional and parole officers who were running and competing in tug of war matches. The officers, who made up 20 teams, were participating as part of an annual fundraiser for Special Olympics Maryland at the Public Safety Education and Training Center in Sykesville.
"They think of us as their family, while we think of them as our family," said Huep, who competes in cycling, tennis, swimming and a host of other events in the Special Olympics.
Since 1993, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has raised more than $250,000 for Special Olympics, according to a news release. The tug of war event is the department's largest fundraiser, which features correctional officers from all across the state.
Mike Stouffer, deputy secretary of operations for the department, said the event was a big morale booster for the officers. He said the competitions are fun, with playful banter often exchanged.
"It's a part of who we are," Stouffer said.
The event is exciting, and it is good to see all of the officers from across the state, said Sykesville resident Lisa Wilson, who works in Hagerstown as a parole and probation agent for the department.
"It's a fun opportunity to work with co-workers and support a good cause," said Wilson, who competed in the tug of war in the all-female teams Almost Angels and Angels in Disguise.
Sykesville resident Jessica Khosravi, who works in Hagerstown with Wilson, said she was glad to be a part of the event. She was on the same teams as Wilson.
"I think it's awesome," Khosravi said.
Alicia Cartwright, who works as a correctional officer for the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, said it felt great to win her first tug of war match with her team.
"This is my first year, so it's exciting to see all of the other officers," Cartwright said.