Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer, center, passes the flaming torch to Centralia Police Commander Pat Fitzgerald Thursday as the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which benefits the Special Olympics, makes its way at a walk through downtown Centralia.

Lewis County Torch Run Provides Sendoff for Special Olympians

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com 

The Law Enforcement Torch Run makes its way through downtown Centralia Thursday, led down Tower Avenue by Sheriff Rob Snaza, Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer and Centralia Police Commander Pat Fitzgerald.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run makes its way through downtown Centralia Thursday, led down Tower Avenue by Sheriff Rob Snaza, Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer and Centralia Police Commander Pat Fitzgerald.

Just before lunchtime on Thursday, Lewis County’s law enforcement leaders led other Special Olympics supporters on their annual parade through downtown Centralia.

“I think it’s just important we show our support,” said Sheriff Rob Snaza. “It’s that important for us.”

The Law Enforcement Torch Run — stretching 18.8 miles — began in Napavine and wound through back roads to Chehalis and Centralia before concluding with a celebration and athlete send-off at Fort Borst Park.

“We had a lot of hiccups — a broke down truck, broke down motorcycle, rain,” said Centralia Police Officer Ruben Ramirez, who organizes the event each year for the Centralia Police Officers’ Association.

Runners from area high schools push a police motorcycle shortly after entering Centralia Thursday on the Law Enforcement Torch Run. About 100 people participated in the event, which benefits local Special Olympics athletes.
Runners from area high schools push a police motorcycle shortly after entering Centralia Thursday on the Law Enforcement Torch Run. About 100 people participated in the event, which benefits local Special Olympics athletes.

Despite the bumps in the road, the rain cleared and the Special Olympics torch reached downtown Centralia on schedule by about 11:15 a.m.

The association raised $2,900 as of Friday for athletes at the The Special Olympics of Washington Summer Games, scheduled for this weekend at Joint Base Lewis McChord.

About 100 people participated in the run Thursday, Ramirez said.

Trevor Gocha, 32, is a familiar face at the annual event. In addition to running with volunteers each year, he competes in events at the Special Olympics. This weekend, he plans to compete in 400- and 800-meter individual races and a 400-meter relay.

Trevor Gocha, an annual participant in the Washington Special Olympics, stretches before embarking on the next phase of the Law Enforcement Torch Run Thursday. The run raises money for local participants in the Special Olympics.
Trevor Gocha, an annual participant in the Washington Special Olympics, stretches before embarking on the next phase of the Law Enforcement Torch Run Thursday. The run raises money for local participants in the Special Olympics.

“What I like most about doing Special Olympics is doing the sports and making people happy,” he said while taking a breather.

Patti Nelson met up with the Torch Run at the Fullers Shop’n Kart grocery store just after 11 a.m. in Centralia. In past years, she has participated with her son, but walked alone this year.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “They absolutely love it.”

Few runners trekked the entire 18.8 mile course. Most, like Nelson, met up with the torch-carriers on scheduled stops along the way, Ramirez said.

Kristi Stelzner also met the group with son Bryce Zandofski. His brother Tanner was already on the run.

“My boys are twins — one started at 7:30,” she said. “It’s a fun thing we do as a family.”

For more information or to get involved with the torch run and other charitable programs organized by the Centralia Police Officers Association, contact the Centralia Police Department at 360-330-7680.

To learn more about the Special Olympics, visit specialolympicswashington.org.