Dozens of Arkansas police officers joined a group of Special Olympics athletes Thursday to begin the final leg of a statewide run escorting the 2014 Special Olympics Arkansas Summer Games torch to Harding University in Searcy.
The torch, which has been run more than 1,200 miles around Arkansas this week, will arrive before opening ceremonies begin in Searcy on Thursday night. The games themselves, which will draw up to 2,000 athletes, kick off Friday.
"It's just a great opportunity to be with Special Olympics athletes," said Mike Davis, chief of the North Little Rock Police Department and a longtime supporter of the group. "You can see the passion they have for what they do and we just want to share it with them ... It makes us feel good, it makes them feel good."
The annual Special Olympics event, where athletes compete in bocce, softball, powerlifting and more, is the hallmark of year-round efforts by police around the state to raise money for the group. Terri Weir, executive director of Special Olympics Arkansas, said police agencies collected more than $500,000 for the group this year.
Davis, who was planning to run part of the way from North Little Rock toward Searcy, said he's enjoyed seeing the number of his colleagues who join the cause grow over time.
"That's the greatest thing, the growth of that through the years," he said, noting officers often attend the games once and become dedicated to the cause because of how appreciative the athletes are. "If they show up one time, they'll come back. And they'll bring a friend next time."