Over 100 members of the Tuolumne County Special Olympics community and members of local law enforcement are expected to bear a ceremonial torch through downtown Sonora Saturday morning to herald in the season of competitive sports and activities of the Special Olympics Summer Games.
The annual torch run spotlights the achievements of a select group of athletes, many of whom who will participate in the Northern California Summer Games held at UC Davis from June 22-24 and at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle from July 1-6, Director of Tuolumne County Special Olympics Debbie Fox said
“For them personally it’s about them feeling part of the community. It’s very special for them to move on and be recognized on a competitive level that's not just here locally. For them its about self confidence, self worth,” she said.
Next weekend at UC Davis, 12 special olympic athletes will represent the Mother Lode in swimming, track and field events, and as a bocce ball team, Fox said.
The athletes, who compete in a variety of events from shot put, relays, the turbo javelin in the the track and field category, will compete against athletes from Fresno to Humboldt County, Fox said.
“It's a whole weekend away on a college campus which means so much to them if they have never gotten to do that,” she said. “It's an experience in itself to be a part of something bigger than their everyday lives in their community.”
And for the first time, Tuolumne County special olympics athletes will compete in the 2018 USA Games held in Seattle. The group, which includes two athletes attending the Summer Games at UC Davis as well as two bowlers, will be broadcast with their peers on live TV as they compete.
“You have to find what they are good at to get that gold or silver to get the opportunity to move on. It's kind of a cool thing because they are able to go and they've continued to train,” she said.
All 15 of the competing athletes will be running on Saturday alongside a battalion of first responders including representatives of the California Highway Patrol, the Sonora Police Department, the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, the Tuolumne County District Attorney's Office, and Cal Fire, CHP - Sonora area Public Information Officer Faustino Pulido said.
“I think that Special Olympics is such a good organization. Everything they do for the athletes, they don't have to pay a dime to participate in the events,” he said. “It's a really good organization and I think everyone should be behind them and supporting them.”
Pulido said CHP - Sonora area Lt. Commander Shane Ferreira, Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele, Tuolumne County Undersheriff Bill Pooley, Sonora Police Department Chief Turu VanderWiel and Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg were all expected to attend.
On the day of the event, it will be decided which member of law enforcement would bear the torch during the run, Pulido said.
“No one person carries it the whole way. We might share it on the way down,” Pulido said.
“I think this year were going to have much bigger support than previous years. I hope the thing grows more and more each year because we really support our local Special Olympic athletes.”
No one should be worried about any danger either, Fox said, because the torch would be a facsimile and not have live flames.
The Torch Run will begin at the Red Church and travel southbound on South Washington Street to Stockton Road. The runners will end at the livestock gate of the Mother Lode Fairgrounds with additional celebrations and festivities, Fox said.
Registration begins at a 9:30 a.m. and the run will follow.
About 100 people are expected to attend, she said, and the group has a fundraising goal of about $500. Runners can pay $25 and receive a t-shirt, but the event is free of charge.
Pulido said there would be “no hard road closure,” but the runners would be running in the southbound lane of Highway 49 and would likely slow traffic in the area for a brief period.