Record numbers come out to support Carroll County Special Olympians at annual Torch Run

Participants set out from McDaniel College for the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run that finished up with a ceremony at Westminster Town Hall on Wednesday, June 6, 2018.

Bystanders cheered for the guardians of the flame Wednesday as they jogged up Longwell Avenue in Westminster bearing a torch for the Special Olympics Maryland Summer Games.

The group of law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes were leading the charge in the last leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, where supporters came from four corners of the county to a culminating ceremony at Westminster City Hall.


This was a banner year for the event, Westminster’s Chief of Police Jeff Spaulding said, with 16 Special Olympics athletes participating in an official capacity, the most the Carroll run has ever had since it began alongside other Maryland Torch Runs in 1986.

The participant turn-out was also landmark. In the Torch Run Trek — a 3-mile walking leg of the event that departed from the Farm Museum to McDaniel — a record 130 participants walked.


As the gathered group from all four corners of the county set out from McDaniel College, Spaulding reminded them to make a lot of noise.

“We’re raising awareness about the life-changing effect of Special Olympics,” he said.

The group responded with the roar of Maryland State Police motorcycles, the calls of recruits from two law enforcement training classes running in cadence and the sirens of 16 law enforcement vehicles.

Brandon McLaird, an athlete who has been participating in Special Olympics for about six years, spoke first-hand about the effect the games have had on him as he enjoyed lunch after the run. He has been part of the Torch Run for two years and carried the torch with members of the McDaniel Department of Campus Safety Wednesday. It was a “fun way to interact with law enforcement that you wouldn’t normally,” he said.

He said Special Olympics allows him to compete in basketball games “on the terms that I can play them.” He said that the way Special Olympics places athletes into different leagues evens the playing field and gives everyone a more fair chance to win.

“Without Special Olympics, I wouldn’t know the people I’ve connected with … and the bonds that have been made,” he added.

Joshua Smith is going into his 30th year as a Special Olympics athlete in golfing, basketball and other sports. In 2005, he traveled to the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, where he medaled in skiing. He hopes to move into coaching in the next year.

After participating in the Mount Airy leg of the morning’s event’s, he said the turnout for the day was amazing.

“It’s good to come out on a Wednesday and support these kids and these athletes,” he said.

The 33 recruits who participated as part of the Maryland National Resources Police training class were part of the largest class on record for the 150-year-old agency. They started their day out in Sykesville at the Maryland State Police Training Academy.

National Resources Police spokesperson Candy Thomson said it was a natural fit for the agency to participate in the community event.

Though most of the recruits switched off in 5-mile increments, two women ran the entire way from Sykesville to Westminster, around 18 miles.


Christina Lees said she felt “great” after finishing the distance. It was the longest run she has ever completed.

Cold weather and a light rain couldn't diminish the light of the Special Olympics' Flame of Hope as police officers, Special Olympics athletes and community

She said the event felt like an important part of the training and she was glad to see all of the people showing support for law enforcement as they supported the athletes.

Spaulding was pleased to see young officers get involved with the community, he said, and hopes they will continue to participate in events supporting Special Olympics throughout their careers.

During the last leg of the race, the runners swung by East Middle School to pick up a group of students from East, West and Shiloh middle schools. The students had been competing to fundraise and all together netted $5,300. West Middle edged out in front of a close competition and took home the trophy after raising $2,927.

Stacey Smith, an eighth-grader at West Middle said it was his first year participating in the event. To raise money for the fundraiser, he said students asked family members to donate change left over from purchases.

“We just kept on raising money,” he said.

Special education students at the school made a commercial that was shown on the morning announcements leading up to Wednesday.

“I can’t believe it because we won,” seventh-grader Lawrence Aquino said.

Relaxing during the lunch held at the Westminster fire hall following the run, Special Olympian Woody Higgs and his step-dad Tom McGuire reflected on Higgs’ seventh year at the Torch Run. Higgs will participate in the Special Olympics Maryland Summer Games, which kick off at Towson University on Friday, June 8.

“Carroll County is one of the best counties for support … that I’ve seen,” McGuire said. Thanks to fundraising efforts, “no family has to ever pay to participate [in Special Olympics] because of the community caring.”

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