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Law enforcement officers from the across the region weaved their way through eastern Connecticut with a state police escort on Wednesday, running side by side with athletes carrying the Flame of Hope in an effort to raise awareness and funds for the Special Olympics.
The first two legs of the three-day torch run, which started in Old Lyme and Putnam, will culminate Friday at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven for the opening ceremonies of Connecticut's Special Olympics Summer Games.
In addition to the personal satisfaction officers, state troopers and correctional officers get out of running for an admirable cause, the day's event was really about the athletes, Groton Town Police Investigator Lauren Fippinger said.
Fippinger and a cadre of nine other Groton officers jogged into downtown Mystic with torch bearer Andrew Szczesny of Mystic, a 15-year-old Fitch High School freshman who will be traveling to New Jersey next week as one of four cyclists representing Connecticut in the Special Olympics USA Games.
Like other athletes, Szczesny was cheered along the route by family and other supporters.
His father, Ed Szczesny, said the day's run was a nice way to highlight the athletes and raise awareness.
"There were tons of people waving and honking their horns," he said. "It was great."
Cecelia Emblidge of Waterford, a coach for the Groton Special Olympics swim team, said the event also helps drum up enthusiasm of the officers who participate in fundraisers for Special Olympics throughout the year.
"The officers are getting extra motivation connecting faces of the actual athletes … not just this big organization but the people they're supporting," she said.
Her son, 24-year-old Stephen Emblidge, waited impatiently at Groton Town Hall to join the runners along Route 1, running in place to warm up for his 2-mile leg of the run.
Stephen Emblidge has competed in Special Olympics since age 10, swimming, golfing, bowling and playing floor hockey. He will be participating in the fall games with his Groton Special Olympics teammates, according to his mother. Not only are the events fun, but she said it is a way to stay active and for the athletes to socialize, a big part of the games.
The day's run concluded at Foxwoods Resort Casino on the Mashantucket Pequot reservation, where state troopers joined athletes and lit a special torch while posing for photos.
Foxwoods Chief Operating Officer Felix Rappaport presented Special Olympics Connecticut with a check for $15,000. Bill Satti, Mashantucket director of public affairs, said the tribe's support of Special Olympics has been consistent through the years.
Since 1992, Foxwoods and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation have hosted yearly fundraisers and for the past 21 years sponsored the aquatics venue at the Summer Games, he said. During the 1995 Special Olympics World Games held in Connecticut, Satti said he headed the aquatics events at Ocean Beach Park in New London. The tribe donated more than $2 million that year, he said.
More than 2,000 athletes will participate in the weekend summer games.
For more information visit www.soct.org.