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Jacksonville Sheriff leads Torch Run for Special Olympics

First place Duval County olympians to compete in state games in May

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Rain showers and cloudy skies couldn't damp the spirits of Duval County's men and women in blue Friday as they ran through the streets of downtown to support local Special Olympians.

Multiple local law enforcement agencies, including the Atlantic Beach Police Department, ATF, FBI, and FDLE, participated in the 1-mile run and 5K that started on Bay Street in front of the Police Memorial Building and concluded at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds. 

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams was among the crowd of runners who helped carry the Flame of Hope over the finish line.

"We've got some Special Olympians here who out ran us," said Williams. "The law enforcement community has come together to fundraise. We sell shirts and hats."

Proceeds raised by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement agencies are used to help send Duval County's most accomplishment Special Olympians to the state games in Orlando next month.

"I play 18-holes by myself. I shoot between the 80s and 70s," said Robbie Culliton, a Special Olympics volunteer and athlete.

Culliton said perfecting his golf game for the championship is important, but what matters most to him is supporting all Special Olympians who run behind the Flame of Hope.

"The torches help me advocate for people and make sure everybody's also included," said Culliton.

“I've worked for the organization now for almost three years. From day one, our Special Olympics Athletes just worm their way into your heart," Jessica Ray said. 

Ray is the director for Special Olympics Florida’s Duval County office. According to Ray, participating counties will have events similar to Jacksonville's, culminating in money raised for the state games. She adds this is special for the athletes and the law enforcement community as a whole. 

“A lot of the police officers have relatives that have a special need or they have met and gotten to interact year after year with the same athletes that are coming out to this event. So it's really creating a relationship," Ray said.

Participants have already purchased their gear to be worn at the event. That includes a $20 T-shirt, which people are welcome to buy ahead of the ceremony. 

Ray said knowing the support is there can make all the difference for these athletes.

For more information about this event, Special Olympics Florida and its sponsors, visit: http://www.specialolympicsflorida.org/index.php 

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.