October 22, 2021

Homer to host torch run for Special Olympics

The Homer Police Department is hosting a Special Olympics torch run this weekend to raise funds and awareness for athletes, a representative said.

Athletes and police are encouraged to run together, while officers carry the Olympic torch from the Homer Fire Department to Durkee Memorial Park, which is 1.2 miles, said Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman. The fire department will host a breakfast in the park for runners and athletes.

It’s part of a day of activities in Homer. A chicken barbecue will be at noon, and a parade organized by the fire department will be 6 p.m.

“Residents can show their support for this event by cheering on athletes on June 12 at they run along North Main St. to the park,” Pitman said. “Representatives from Special Olympics will also be at the park if anyone would like to donate.”

The Southern Tier chapter, which includes Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Otsego, Tioga and Tompkins counties, is home to roughly 3,000 athletes, said Renee Snyder, vice president of development for Special Olympics New York. Globally, the torch run raises $50 million. In New York, it raises $2 million.

“In theory, every town and municipality has a torch run, but that’s not necessarily the case,” Snyder said. “We have about 60 across the state but typically, we have more. We are operating at about 70% of what we usually do this year.”

Officers from Homer, Cortland, Ithaca, state police and the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office will run Saturday, Pitman said. Sponsors include CP Cash and Carry, Bill Bros. Dairy and Tops Market.

The run usually precedes the Summer Games, which take place in June, but were canceled this year, Snyder said.

However, the Special Olympics will host the summer state games in Ithaca and Cortland in 2022, Snyder said.

“Special Olympics New York is the largest special Olympics program in North America with over 67,000 athletes who are training and competing every day of the week,” Snyder said. “The law enforcement torch run initiative is the largest grass root and public awareness vehicle for Special Olympics.”

The organization hosts several fundraising events like polar plunges and T-shirt sales with proceeds helping athletes with equipment, transportation, venues, awards and other expenses, Snyder said.

“Our athletes are never charged for anything,” Snyder said. “We are raising all of these funds so they can do what they do every day.”

“The run is usually done as a county,” said Cortland Deputy Chief David Guerrera who has run in the past. “Lately, we’ve been running a short stint within the county and in the city.”

In past years, athletes and police have run anywhere from three miles to the entire length of the county, with bands and buses lined up along the way to support runners, Guerrera said. This is the first year the Homer police department will host the event.

“They expressed interest in wanting to do it in Homer and we put it together,” said Cortland police Officer Joseph Peters, a member of the statewide special Olympics committee, who has helped plan the local runs since 2013. “Hopefully we have just as good of a showing in Homer as we did in Cortland.”