October 22, 2021

Torch run in Homer benefits Special Olympics

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Three law enforcement officers stand with the three special olympics athletes who competed in Saturday’s torch run event. The group is, from left, athlete Anne Norby, State Trooper Aga Dembinska, athlete Daryle Jennings, Ithaca Police Lt. Barry Banfield, athlete Kinsey Henry and Cortland Police Officer Joe Peters.

The course Saturday wasn’t long, just 1.2 miles. It was through Homer, not the United Arab Emirates. Still, Kinsey Henry was outdoors, among friends and helping with the Special Olympics.

Athletes and police ran through Homer, from the Homer Fire Department to Durkee Memorial Park, a
torch run to raise money for the Special Olympics.

“My favorite part? I guess, really, just being outdoors, and then to get to interact with different people,” said Henry, 21, a Special Olympian from Groton. “When I went to Dubai, it was really cool to meet people with common interests and get to learn their culture.”

“What better way to bring attention to the cause than to block off Main Street traffic on a Saturday?” said Cortland Police Officer Joseph Peters. “Drivers get mad about it for a minute, but then they realize it’s the Special Olympics — how can you be mad at these athletes running to raise awareness?”

This was the first year the Homer Police Department hosted the torch run. The Homer Fire Department hosted a breakfast in the park for runners and athletes. It was a day of activities for Homer, including a chicken barbecue for lunch and an evening parade organized by the fire department.

“It’s nice to meet new people,” Henry said, “but also to have — if you ever do get in trouble, or need help — to know you’ll always have a friend, and somebody who will come, someone you can rely on to come and help you.”

Special Olympics’ Southern Tier chapter, which includes Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Tioga and Tompkins counties, is home to about 3,000 athletes.

Worldwide, the torch run raises $50 million, including $2 million raised across New York state.

More than a dozen businesses and organizations sponsored the torch run and volunteers sold T-shirts as part of the fundraiser. The money raised goes toward competition expenses for athletes, including buying equipment, awards, dining and travel costs.

“Because of COVID, we’re just starting to ease back into some of the other sports, but it’s great to be able to support the local area and have competitions coming up and clubs opening up,” said Karli
Buday, the Cortland-Tompkins area coordinator for Special Olympics. “The community can either attend as an audience member and cheer on the athletes, or if they want to be more involved, they can sign up as volunteers or even as a coach.”

The event had a limited capacity, 50 people, but the three athletes who took part drew waves from pedestrians and drivers, and others took photos.

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Special Olympics athlete Daryle Jennings leads the 2021 Torch Run with the help of a New York State Trooper.

Athlete Daryle Jennings, 50, of Homer, lives only a few minutes from Durkee Park. Henry and Anne Norby, 29 of Dryden, will represent the Southern Tier at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida.

“There are not as many Special Olympics going on, because they’re restricting the numbers,” said Kevin Henry, Kinsey Henry’s father. “But this is important to get them out there, get exercise and have fun.

Next June, Norby will compete in swimming while Kinsey Henry competes in track and field.

But this isn’t Kinsey Henry’s first rodeo — she competed in the Special Olympics World Games in Austria in 2017 and Abu Dhabi.

The USA Games isn’t the only event returning next summer. Cortland and Ithaca will host the state Special Olympics next year.