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Lighting the way Local police pass torch in Special Olympics event

Hudson Reporter Publications - 6/18/2018

Police from North Bergen, Union City, West New York, and Jersey City kicked off Special Olympics New Jersey's 35th annual Law Enforcement Torch Run June 8. This year marks the Olympics' 50th anniversary.

In the run, a series of law enforcement agencies pass a torch until it winds up at the Summer Games. This year, the games ran from June 8 through 10. The College of New Jersey in Ewing hosted. Special Olympics NJ also holds athletic competitions throughout the year.

The run's 13-mile Hudson County section began in North Hudson Braddock Park. It wound down Bergenline Avenue through neighboring towns before officers transferred the torch to Newark police.

The run raised money and awareness for Special Olympics NJ.

Before North Bergen police kicked off the run, they honored four colleagues for their extra support. P.O. Nader Awadallah, Sgt. Michele Bartoli, P.O. William Brown, and Police Chief Robert Dowd all received plaques stating, "Your support has given athletes a chance to learn, grow, and know the joy of sports and athletic competition through participation in Special Olympics New Jersey."

"It's an incredible amount of work," Dowd said, before his runners hit the starting line. "I did it for like 17 years."

Dowd mentioned that last year, his officers ranked number five on the top 10 fundraising police departments for the Special Olympics. While he was happy, he wants better results next time.

"Number five is great, but I think we're going up," Dowd said.

Detective Santos Bentiez has participated for the last 13 years. He's completed the entire Hudson County stretch for at least five of those years. However, he was planning to finish at the Jersey City border this year, because he had a shift waiting for him afterwards.

"I think it's a great program, especially for the community," he said. "We're a very community-oriented police department, and this is just us giving back."

Part time officer Bryon Dominguez was running in the event for the first time. He said he runs around three to four times per week to maintain his cardio.

"I hope that they'll make it, as far as their running," said Lt. Thomas Ferrari, who was on hand, and has helped with organizing the Olympic events. He did participate in the torch run 10 years ago, but said that he needs to train more before doing it again. "Maybe next year," he said.

Over 300 police departments and 3,000 plus officers throughout the state participated in the run this year.

The event started after Port Authority Police Officer Steven Vitale agreed to photograph a local Special Olympics competition in 1982. Vitale was moved by the athletes' determination. He asked other police officers to volunteer their time as well. Two years later, the Torch Run came to fruition. That year, it ran from Jersey City'sLiberty State Park to New Brunswick'sRutgers Stadium. Today, the run raises over $3 million annually for the Special Olympics, through local and statewide events.

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