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Special Olympics torch carried through Will County

Police and firefighters keep torch moving

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 10:22 p.m. CDT
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(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Darius Maberry (front), 10, is pushed in a stroller Tuesday by Greg Wietting (right) while running alongside Ryan Dobczyk and Rick Dobczyk (left) as runners participating in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Illinois cross over the Des Plaines River on the West Ninth Street bridge leading to downtown Lockport.
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Greg Wietting (From left to right), Steve Hunter and Steve Kirsch run past the Old Joliet Prison during Tuesday's Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Lockport firefighter Kevin Sears (from left to right), Lt. Doug Mayer of the Homer Township Fire Protection District and Lt. Larry Rittenhouse of Lockport Township Fire Protection District work together Tuesday to raise a flag over South State Street in downtown Lockport in preparation for the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Illinois.

In the past few years, the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics has been run in pleasant breeze and stifling heat.

On Tuesday there was rain that seemed to follow the torch as it was carried from Bolingbrook to New Lenox.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run is the single largest year-round fundraising event benefiting Special Olympics Illinois, according to the event’s website. The annual relay and its fundraising projects aim to raise money and to gain awareness for the athletes who participate in Special Olympics Illinois.

Tuesday’s run began at Bolingbrook Village Hall and the Flame of Hope was carried down Route 53. Lockport police officer Debbie Schenk, who coordinated the run locally, said the event gets a lot of attention long before passing motorists or pedestrians see the runners.

“The slow-moving emergency vehicles always draw attention. There were a lot of stares on Route 53, but also a lot of honking in support once they saw [the runners],” Schenk said.

Members of a local running club joined police when the torch was brought through Romeoville. To include other agencies, the run headed a few blocks south of Lockport to pass by state police headquarters and the edge of Crest Hill before turning around to cross over the Ninth Street bridge.

On State Street, Lockport Township and Homer Township firefighters positioned ladder trucks to hang a big American flag over the runners’ path. The flag is secured with bungee cords and hooks, but it requires concentration to synchronize two platforms designed for work, not display.

“You have to bring both ladders up at the same time. The flag will stretch a little, but it wouldn’t look good if we ripped it,” Lockport Township Deputy Chief John Kure said.

The steady rain that had some Lockport officers standing under trees as they waited had eased into a drizzle when the torch arrived. Chief Terry Lemming, Lt. Ron Huff and officers Kevin Brauch, Marty Hamilton, Dennis Ivanich and Shaun Kelly met Schenk in a parking lot just southeast of the bridge to accept the hand-off.

The Lockport police were joined by Will County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Kirsch and his daughter Rikki for their lap around City Hall.

While the torch run is heading to Hancock Stadium in Normal for the state games, Rikki Kirsch will compete next week in the National Special Olympics in New Jersey. Kirsch will participate in the 25-meter backstroke, 25-meter butterfly, 50-meter freestyle and a relay with three other swimmers.

Coincidentally, Schenk was Kirsch’s first swimming coach.

“Don’t pull anything running [with the torch]. You have to compete,” Schenk told her just before the hand-off. Kirsch promised not to strain herself running because she had swim practice in the afternoon.

“I’m practicing more [as it gets closer]. I’m both more tired and more excited,” Kirsch said.

Tuesday’s leg of the torch run ended in New Lenox and will begin again Wednesday in Chicago to travel to Kankakee. Torch runs also will take place in other communities throughout the state this week.

As the torch came down State Street, Pam Hirth and Kaylynn Bown left their nearby office to applaud.

“This looks so cool. We just want to show support,” Hirth said.

Hirth and Bown went back to work. Kirsch went to swim and Schenk drove ahead of the procession to make sure the road was clear for Kirsch’s father, another deputy and a correctional transport officer to carry the torch down to Joliet.

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