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Torch Run returns to Rowan streets, raises money for Special Olympics

SALISBURY — From one end of the county to another, law enforcement officers pounded the pavement Tuesday as part of Rowan County’s leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics of North Carolina.

Rowan County’s portion of the race is on Leg No. 1, which started in Union County and curved through Charlotte and Cabarrus County. It roughly follows Interstate 85 until reaching Raleigh. With five total legs, torches carried across the state will converge in Raleigh for the final section on May 27. The run raises money for the Special Olympics of North Carolina.

Lt. P.J. Smith of the Salisbury Police Department organized the Salisbury portion. Smith said the Torch Run is particularly meaningful because he has a special-needs brother, Benji, who also is a Special Olympics athlete.

“We’re raising money for North Carolina Special Olympics to have them be able to compete and enjoy themselves and not have to worry about where (the money) comes from,” Smith said.

Smith said the local run aims to raise a minimum of $6,000 in donations. Just one or two Torch Run T-shirts can feed an athlete for a day while they attend the state games.

“If you have ever been a part of a Special Olympics event, you know each and every athlete pours their heart and soul into every event they are participating in,” Smith said. “Nobody finishes last. Good sportsmanship is practiced by every athlete. They are just thrilled to be a part of the games.”

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s run, fundraising effort was half of the $6,000 amount. Smith says people can continue donating by mailing checks made out to NCLETR to the Salisbury Police Department, 130 E. Liberty St. in Salisbury.

In Kannapolis, nine runners covered about 6 miles — from the city limits near Interstate 85 and North Cannon Boulevard to the northern limits on North Cannon Boulevard. Rowan Sheriff’s Office participants ran from Landis to Salisbury. For the Salisbury section of the run, about 30 runners, most of whom were police officers, ran along South Main Street and U.S. 29 until reaching Spencer.

The Salisbury runners covered about 5.5 miles. Another group of runners who joined in Spencer covered about 6 miles to make it to the Yadkin River.

At Stallings Memorial Baptist Church, a group of family members, Special Olympians and other onlookers waited for the Salisbury crowd. Among them was Randy Ewing, a Special Olympics athlete who last participated in the Torch Run in 2019. COVID-19 canceled the 2020 event.

Also waiting for the runners was Debbie Martin, Smith’s mom, who said Special Olympics give special needs individuals a sense of self-esteem and enjoyment.

“It’s hard to put into words,” she said. “Everyone is so caring and loving. It’s better than any other type of activity they can do, and it forms such a bond with the community.”

In the crowd of runners was Jeremy Alderman, who works for the State Bureau of Investigation and said he joined the run this year because it’s a good community event. David Freeze, who’s biked through every state in the country and leads the Salisbury-Rowan Runners, also helped the crowd reach the finish line.

Smith said most police officers that ran in the event starting some training a few months prior. For other, new runners in the group, Smith said the Torch Run kept a slow, steady pace.

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