Special athletes help with torch relay

MARIETTA – In 224 days, the Olympic torch will arrive for the final leg to light the cauldron at the games of the 22nd Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

On Friday evening, the final leg of the 2013 Ohio Law Enforcement Torch Run will leave the Ohio Highway Patrol Academy and travel 3.2 miles to Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Five torch relays originating in Athens, Cleveland, Marietta, Toledo and Cincinnati will converge in Columbus to open this year’s Special Olympics. Organizers expected more than 2,000 law enforcement officers to run the six legs of the relay.

That included a group who departed from Marietta Wednesday morning, running side by side with some of the 22 local Special Olympics competitors.

All pumped up for her turn during the torch relay was Marietta resident Megan Bronski, 37.

“I get to Columbus almost every year and get to meet other athletes,” she said.

About 50 runners of local Special Olympians, Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers, Marietta police officers and the Noble Correctional Institution’s Special Response Team met early Wednesday morning in the parking lot next to the Marietta Fire Department on Third Street.

When the relay began, the runners wound their way through downtown Marietta along Third, Fourth, Greene, Front and Putnam streets, ending at the Washington County Courthouse for hugs, high-fives, hand shakes and pats on the back.

“We had a blast!” said Olympian James Scott, 25, of Belpre. He ran with Trooper Seth Jones, 22, of the Marietta post.

Marietta post Commander Lt. Carlos Smith said the patrol should be involved in community events so they aren’t seen as just the officers who make traffic stops.

“It’s important for us to be out in the community to support anything that’s a good cause,” Smith said. “They get to see the compassion of the officers. We care about the community.”

Along the route Wednesday, onlookers on sidewalks applauded and cheered the runners. Each Special Olympian was paired with a member of law enforcement and each pair took turns leading the relay with the torch.

“It’s a good way to give back to the community,” said Sgt. Garry White with the Noble Correctional Institution. “They didn’t have a lot of runners in the beginning. It touched our hearts, and our institution has been gracious enough to come back and do it.”

Some of the runners trained for Wednesday’s torch relay.

Danielle Stafford, 30, of Marietta said she has been training since May for the torch relay and to compete on the softball team. She likes her team’s chances of earning a medal.

“I beat one of my opponents from my own team,” Stafford said. “I’m going to give it all I got this weekend.”