The race is on for officers supporting Special Olympics

Torch Run fundraiser scheduled for Aug. 30

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 28, 2012

 Members of the Fraternal Order of Police team — which included five officers from Sterling Heights and two from Grosse Pointe Park — celebrate with Special Olympics athletes after the 2008 Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Members of the Fraternal Order of Police team — which included five officers from Sterling Heights and two from Grosse Pointe Park — celebrate with Special Olympics athletes after the 2008 Law Enforcement Torch Run.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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Athletes often load up on pasta pre-race, but members of the local Law Enforcement Torch Run team are hoping it’s donors who decide to do so Aug. 30.

The Fraternal Order of Police team — comprising officers from the Sterling Heights FOP Lodge 118 and Grosse Pointe Park FOP Lodge 102 — is hosting a Cops on the Run pasta dinner at Rosie O’Grady’s in Chesterfield Township that night in anticipation of the Sept. 10-14 run.

A grueling, 750-mile relay extending from the Upper Peninsula to metro Detroit, the run generates financial support and awareness for Special Olympics Michigan, a nonprofit organization offering sporting competitions for athletes with intellectual disabilities. Teams from the Michigan State Police and Department of Corrections also participate.

With a significant contributor pulling out in the 11th hour and a successful fundraiser of years past now defunct, Sterling Heights police officer Dave Allen said the FOP team is “in dire need of some help” and hanging its hopes on the Aug. 30 event.

Cops & Lobsters, which involved officers assisting Red Lobster servers for additional tips from patrons, typically generated $6,000-$8,000 alone, said Allen, who coordinates the team.

With its help, the FOP team often raised well over $15,000 a year, he said, but corporate pulled the plug a few years ago. Now, the group is struggling to reach the minimum commitment of $11,000, he said.

They’re also dealing with a physical setback. An injury recently sidelined one of the FOP’s runners, Sgt. Brent Merlington of the Grosse Pointe Park Department of Public Safety, leaving the team scrambling for a substitute capable of handling the distance.

“It’s an event that we have to train for for a few months in advance, and get our bodies ready for that,” said Allen. “It seems like one struggle after another.”

As of late August, the FOP team included Allen, Mario Bastianelli, Josh Selby and Al Arche from the Sterling Heights Police Department, and Lt. John Kretzschmar from Grosse Pointe Park.

The men, who’ve become as close as brothers, have run together for years, but Allen said this will be the last time. Mounting personal and professional commitments are prompting the FOP team’s core members to “retire,” though Allen said they’re recruiting “new blood” for future years.

Special Olympics International describes the Law Enforcement Torch Run as the “single largest grass-roots fundraising effort” for the cause, and Special Olympics Michigan reported that the endeavor, in its record-breaking year in 2010, generated $614,000 in donations.

Michigan reportedly boasts the longest non-stop relay route of any Torch Run event nationwide. Each of the three teams traversing Michigan’s “Central Route,” as it’s known, has at least six runners that rotate through 5-mile legs in 30-mile stints, averaging 8 minutes a mile. They start in Copper Harbor and finish at the FOP hall in Sterling Heights.

There also are affiliated “travel teams” and volunteers who run smaller, community-based routes.

With one of the largest such programs in the United States, Special Olympics Michigan serves nearly 20,000 athletes, both children and adults, with an average age of 27. The mission is to use sports as a vehicle for arming participants with self-confidence.

Special Olympics Michigan is a year-round program, with more than 440 local and several state-level competitions held annually. Two dozen team and individual sports are available, including basketball, cross-country and alpine skiing, aquatics, cycling, speed and figure skating, artistic and rhythmic gymnastics, golf, bowling, soccer, softball, and more.

Andrea Rachko, development manager and Law Enforcement Torch Run liaison for Special Olympics Michigan, said the money raised helps offset athletes’ registration fees and makes it possible for more people to participate.

But beyond the financial factor, “the 750-mile run is to create awareness as well … and to show the dedication and support we get from the officers, the community, and the law enforcement agencies across the state,” said Rachko. “They aren’t just out there running and raising funds; they’re out there interacting along the way and the rest of the year, as well.”

Allen has a personal attachment to Special Olympics — he has a relative who’s competed — but he said his colleagues have had their own firsthand experiences by handing out medals and interacting with athletes at the organization’s summer and winter games.

“It’s really kind of hit home with the guys, too,” said Allen. “We’ve gotten to see the other end of things, other than just the fundraising and going out and doing the run.”

Cops on the Run is set for 5-11 p.m. Aug. 30, with pasta and salad served 6:30-8:30 p.m. Admission tickets, which include the meal, are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Drinks will be half-price 9-11 p.m., and 50/50 raffle tickets and Special Olympics T-shirts will be available for purchase.

Rosie O’Grady’s is located at 30400 23 Mile, east of I-94, in Chesterfield Township. For more information or to purchase tickets, call Allen at (586) 446-2936.

To donate online, visit www.firstgiving.com/somicivic/run week2012 and select 2012 FOP under Teams. Checks, made out to Special Olympics Michigan or Law Enforcement Torch Run, also can be sent to the Sterling Heights Police Department, care of Dave Allen, 40333 Dodge Park Road, Sterling Heights, MI 48313.

For more information on Special Olympics Michigan, visit www.somi.org.

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