Special Olympics Florida enjoys torch run near Gainesville

Friday’s sweltering heat couldn’t dampen the excitement and vigor of community members who took part in the local law enforcement torch run.

Dressed in purple shirts, a small group of law enforcement officers ran side-by-side with Special Olympians, each taking turns holding a lit torch as they drove through part of Jonesville.

The Torch Run is an annual event that has been suspended for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and helps raise funds for the Special Olympics competition.

“It was an impressive turnout for taking so little time to put it together this year,” said Susan Pratt, a police officer at the University of Florida and co-organizer of the event. “We weren’t even sure it could happen. And then we have a great group of people from all different agencies…were able to put this in place in such a short time for our special needs athletes and community. “

Tourism:Data shows Gainesville and Alachua County tourism rebounded to pre-pandemic levels

Drinking in public:Gainesville commission to ban drinking on public property again after split vote

After:The Foundation’s first HBCU University Fair is a huge success

The 1.2-mile run started at Steeples Chase Shopping Plaza in Jonesville before heading south on Northwest 140th Terrace. The runners headed up West Newberry Road before finishing with a brisk walk back to the square.

About 30 runners with special needs participated in the race, along with local law enforcement officials from the UFPD, Santa Fe College, Gainesville, High Springs and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office .

Special Olympian Ella Zsembik, 29, center, who is a gold medalist in bocce, holds the Special Olympics torch with University Police Department officer and event co-organizer Susan Pratt , as they lead a group during the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Florida near the Steeplechase Mall in Jonesville, west of Gainesville, May 6, 2022. Law enforcement officers of the Order of Alachua County participated in the Torch Run alongside Special Olympians to raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Ella Zsemvik, 29, a Special Olympian and bocce champion, returned to the plaza court holding the torch with a smile on her face.

She has participated in the Special Olympics for the past five years, although this was her first law enforcement torch run. She said the event is a great way to make new friends and have fun. She was joined by her father, Charles Peek.

“For people with special needs who aren’t in middle school or high school, there aren’t a lot of opportunities,” Zsemvik said. “It’s just a great, positive support system. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Funding for Special Olympics was raised through the event through the sale of t-shirts and hats. Law enforcement officers and deputies have also worked as servers in restaurants as part of a Tip-A-Cop program to help raise funds for athletes wishing to compete in the Olympics.

Naomi C. Amerson