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Athletes kick off Special Olympics torch run in Bemidji

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Bemidji Special Olympics Athlete Jason Peterson carries the torch at the start of the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics on Monday morning at Paul Bunyan Park. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
Bemidji police officer Bidal Duran, right, lights the torch that will be carried by Bemidji Special Olympics Athlete Jason Peterson for the first mile of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics on Monday at Paul Bunyan Park. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

BEMIDJI—The athletes who gathered in Paul Bunyan Park Monday were a little outside their comfort zone. Though most were bowlers, swimmers or bocce ball players, they had a different focus: running the Minnesota Special Olympics torch.

Bemidji Special Olympics Athlete Jason Peterson began the run at about 9 a.m. Monday, along with nine others. The group will take the torch 76 miles from Bemidji to Pequot Lakes, Minn., as part of the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Participants included a mix of Special Olympics athletes, police officers and community members. The purpose is to raise awareness and funds for the cause.

"It's for a great cause," said Bradley Olson, a Special Olympics bowler. "The involvement with the community is important, and Special Olympics is a community-based organization."

The event was hosted by the Bemidji chapter of the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police. Bemidji police officer Bidal Duran chose to run the torch as well, and said he hopes to bring awareness to the Special Olympics.

"I don't think it gets recognized as much as it should," Duran said. "What we're out here doing is trying to support them."

Shannon Murray, the community outreach specialist for Bemidji Special Olympics agreed.

"A lot of the folks that we serve don't always get the fanfare at sporting events," Murray said. "When we get to that state level it's really nice to see so many people coming out and cheering on folks and supporting Special Olympics."

The runners will take shifts, running about a mile at a time, for as long as they want. Vehicles will travel back and forth from Bemidji to the runners, so participants can leave when needed. Bicycles were also made available to the athletes.

Olson, the bowler, emphasized the importance of the Special Olympics motto.

"Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt," Olson said. "That basically says it all."

The Minnesota Special Olympics summer games kick off Thursday, June 22 at Eastview High School in Apple Valley.

Grace Pastoor

Grace Pastoor covers crime, courts and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. Contact her at (218) 333-9796 or gpastoor@bemidjipioneer.com

(218) 333-9796
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