On Friday, the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run, which kicks off the annual Summer Games of Special Olympics New Jersey, will take place all across the state and one Glen Rock girl will play an important part in it.
Olivia Childs, a sixth grader at Glen Rock Middle School, will, for the third year in a row, carry the torch on its way through Glen Rock before it is passed along and eventually makes its way down to the College of New Jersey, where the games will take place this weekend.
“It’s such an amazing cause, and to be part of this, to support our police, who are doing this – it’s awesome,’’ Sharon Israel-Childs, Olivia’s mother, told Banana Tree News.
Special Olympics New Jersey has nearly 2,500 athletes with special needs – usually an intellectual disability or cognitive delay – competing in sports like swimming, gymnastics, bocce, softball, tennis and track and field. The Law Enforcement Torch Run is an effort by police departments around the state where over 3,000 officers run with the “Flame of Hope’’ around the streets in their communities in an effort to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics. The goal is raise funds and to get people in the communities to come out and cheer the officers on as they run with the torch.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run began in 1984, the brainchild of Port Authority Police Officer Steven Vitale, who had been asked, in 1982, to take photos at a local Special Olympics competition in New Jersey. Vitale was so moved by the determination of the athletes in the competition that he asked his fellow police officers to volunteer at the Special Olympics Summer Games and that led to the creation of the Torch run, which first ran from Liberty State Park in Jersey City to Rutgers Stadium in New Brunswick, covering 43 miles, through eight towns, and raised $7,000. The funds raised have gone up every year, and to date, the Law Enforcement Torch Run and other efforts by the police raises over $3 million annually for Special Olympics New Jersey.
The Glen Rock Police Department will carry the torch from the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Rock Road, all the way down Rock to Hamilton Avenue, down Hamilton to the Middle School/High School, then down Harristown Road to Maple Avenue, where the Glen Rock police officers hand it off to the Fair Lawn officers.
Olivia Childs, who has a vascular disease in her legs that makes it painful to walk or run, will ride in the police car while the police officers run with the torch. Then she will get out and carry the torch past the rock and past the Middle School/High School. Olivia has had 23 surgeries on her legs, and will continue to have surgeries for the rest of her life, her mother says.
“The surgeries are maintenance for her legs,’’ Sharon Israel-Childs said.
While Olivia does not have an intellectual disability, her physical disability made the GRPD ask her to help carry the torch. Olivia, who sometimes walks without assistance, and sometimes uses crutches or a wheelchair, plays sled hockey, because her mother wants to show that sports are for everyone, including those with disabilities.
Taking part in the Law Enforcement Run, her mother hopes, will help “raise awareness of differences and to raise awareness that people can have challenges but still participate in everything.
“The sled hockey team is unbelievable – what it does for these kids who are shut out of other sports and things is amazing,’’ Israel-Childs said. It’s such an amazing cause and to be part of this, to support our police, who are doing this – it’s awesome.’’
Israel-Childs hopes people from the town and the schools will come out to cheer on the police as they run, with Olivia, and carry the torch. Crowds cheered the officers on three years ago, she said, and some of the schools came out to watch two years ago, but last year there were not many people watching as the torch made its way through the streets of Glen Rock.
Israel-Childs said the torch is expected to arrive in Glen Rock around 11 a.m. and the officers will run the 3.5-mile circuit roughly during lunchtime.
This article has been edited after publication. It was altered to clarify that the torch does not travel with Olivia Childs in the police car at any point during the run.