“Go, Daddy, go!” Colten Rozier shouted as he spotted his father, Gwinnett County Police Department Maj. Jason Rozier, jogging toward the Home Depot on Jimmy Carter Boulevard.
Behind the major, nearly five dozen law enforcement officers from at least four Gwinnett departments — municipal and county agencies — ran in pairs, three carrying flags and one holding Special Olympics Georgia’s torch.
As onlookers cheered, the runners slowed, nearing the end of their approximately 5-mile run, which had begun at Lilburn Police Department about an hour before.
“This was great, absolutely amazing,” said Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Priscilla Foy, organizer of this year’s Special Olympics Georgia Law Enforcement Torch Run in Gwinnett. “This is probably the biggest turnout that I’ve personally seen, and other people who are out here said this is the biggest they’ve seen as well. I’m very pleased, I’m excited; I think we’ve got a lot of people now who are excited about this.”
The annual torch run, a relay between law enforcement agencies across the state, is now in its 34th year, having first been organized in Georgia in 1986.
As the largest fundraiser for the Special Olympics, the two-week relay — the torch was lit in Columbia County on May 6 and was passed off to the DeKalb County Police Department by Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Lou Solis on Wednesday morning — builds up to the 2019 Summer Games, which open Friday at Emory University.
There, the torch will be escorted into Emory’s arena by law enforcement from across the state, said Special Olympics Georgia Marketing Manager Allyson Jordan.
“They run the torch in to the athletes, and it’s a really big part of supporting the athletes and allowing them to go to games and compete,” Jordan said. “(Law enforcement officer) believe in (the athletes) and support them, and it means a lot to the athletes and Special Olympics.”
While any group could, in theory, run the torch into the games, Jordan said the choice, years ago, to have law enforcement officers carry the flame was made, in part, to bring the community together.
“Whether its for the fundraising events or the (torch relay), it just allows (law enforcement) to show their support and allows us to show support for them, too,” Jordan said.
Foy echoed Jordan on Wednesday morning.
“People sometimes view law enforcement in a negative light; people (also) view it in a positive light,” she said. “This helps to bring a positive light and it helps to (engage) law enforcement with the community. It helps to get us out there to show, ‘Look, we’re out here, we care about our community, we care about our athletes; we’re out here doing what a lot of them cannot do and we’re out here representing a lot of them.’”
Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Dayne Turner said that’s exactly why he ran for the first time this year.
“To raise awareness for a great cause — for me, it was an easy choice when Deputy Foy asked me if I wanted to run,” Turner said. “It was long, but when you start getting tired, you think about why you’re running and what the cause is for and that gives you a little extra boost.”
Though this year’s relay in Gwinnett was a huge success, Foy said she’s hoping for an even bigger turnout next year.
“I’ve already talked to the manager at Home Depot — they’ve been fabulous to us this go-around — and they want to be even more involved next year and have an even bigger turnout at the finish line,” Foy said. “I’m also going to stay on all my brother and sister agencies that I invited and try to get them out and really push to have a bigger crowd next year. I wanted at least 50 (runners) this year and I think we made it, but I’m going to try for 100 next year.”