A group of Newport Beach police officers ran along Coast Highway this morning, carrying the Special Olympics torch as part of an international law enforcement effort to raise funds and awareness for the Special Olympics games.
They passed Marguerite Avenue just before 10:30 a.m. on the way toward Dover Drive, where they eventually handed the torch to Costa Mesa police.
Lorraine Dekker Menning of Laguna Beach saw them as she drove past and pulled over to get a closer look. At first, she said, she thought the torch was for the Olympics to be held this summer in London.
“The Special Olympics torch is just as special to me,” she said. “In fact, it’s more dear to my heart.”
Menning said she has a close friend with special needs, a man who worked with her at Albertsons for years.
“I can’t wait to call him when I get home,” she said. Then as the torch passed, she cheered.
Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson, who participated today, said the torch run was close to his heart as well.
“I personally had an aunt with Down’s Syndrome and just two years ago had a very close friend of mine give birth to a baby boy with Down’s Syndrome,” Johnson said in an email. “Benjamin and his family come over and visit nearly every Sunday morning, so I see first-hand both the challenges and the joy that come from having a special needs child. If, when Benjamin gets older, he is able to run around a track as fast as he can run around my house and get into mischief, I suspect he will bring home a medal from the Special Olympics.”
Two police employee associations, the Newport Beach Police Association and the Newport Beach Police Management Association, each donated $250 to support the Special Olympics through the torch run, said Kathy Lowe, a Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman. REO World in Newport Beach also made a $1,000 donation, she added.
In September, police participated in a Tip-A-Cop fundraiser that raised another $6,000 for Special Olympics, she said.
The Newport Beach Police Department has always been a supporter of the Special Olympics, Johnson said.
“Though many of us in law enforcement sometimes come across with a ‘tough exterior,’ I think we all have a soft spot in our hearts for the Special Olympic athletes as well as all those with special needs,” Johnson said. “That is evident by the number of police officers who come out for this long run, some without even training.”
The runners were escorted by motorcycle officers. Along their route, television cameras were set up to film the event, and several times cars honked and passersby cheered.